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ICS Wants Full Fibre Broadband for All of Scotland by 2027 UPDATE

Monday, January 20th, 2020 (10:20 am) - Score 1,266

The new Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS) has this morning published a blueprint for their proposed 30-year infrastructure strategy, which among other things calls on the Scottish Government (SG) to ensure the delivery of a “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband ISP network to cover all of the country 2027.

At present around 94.5% of Scotland can already access a fixed “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) connection, while 50% have access to “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) speeds (mostly via Virgin Media’s platform) and gigabit-capable “full fibre” networks cover around 8% (here). As for mobile (mobile broadband) networks, indoor 4G coverage is about 79% from all operators but this drops to just 42% for geographic coverage from all operators (here).

The SG is already working to improve all of this, such as through their somewhat slow to deliver £25m 4G Infill Programme (here), as well as the new 10 year 100% relief on business rates for new fibre infrastructure (here) and their delay stricken £600m R100 programme that aims to get as close as possible to 100% coverage of “superfast broadband” (here).

The R100 roll-out originally expected to complete by the end of 2021, although the SG has since confirmed that it won’t finish until 2023. The good news is that many of the remaining rural areas will be covered by a “full fibre” service from Openreach (BT) via this project, but the bad news is that the scheme’s largest North LOT (i.e. the Highlands and Islands, Angus, Aberdeen and Dundee) has been stalled by a legal challenge from Gigaclear.

On top of all that we now have the first report from the new ICS, which very generally sets out 23 specific recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider. Several of these are directly related to broadband and mobile infrastructure, which we’ve highlighted below.

ICS Recommendations Related to Broadband and Mobile

17. Building on the findings of the recent UK National Infrastructure Commission review of Energy and Telecoms regulation, the Scottish and UK Governments should immediately commit to work together to develop by 2021, an appropriately devolved regulatory and pricing framework that enables energy and telecoms infrastructure investment to be planned and delivered to meet the future needs of Scotland.

19. In conjunction with the regulatory reforms highlighted in 17, the Scottish Government should provide the leadership required to ensure the delivery of a full fibre network for Scotland by 2027 to enable the transition to 5G across the whole of Scotland.

20. To ensure Scotland’s place in the world and increase its international presence and connectivity resilience, the Scottish Government should prioritise support for an indigenous data centre market and investment in direct international fibre optic cables.

21. From 2020, the Scottish Government should consider the future data requirements and data potential for all new publicly funded infrastructure as well as the potential for the use of digital services associated with the assets.

We should clarify, since it’s not completely clear above, that the document does say the 2027 date is indeed for covering the “whole of Scotland” with full fibre. Such a date is extremely challenging, particularly given the on-going delays with R100 (may not be resolved for awhile), but on the other hand R100 is at a much more advanced stage than the UK Government’s new £5bn gigabit scheme (it may be 2021 before that comes out of the oven).

Ian Russell, Chair of the ICS, said:

“While infrastructure investment remains a vital factor in supporting the economy and acting as an enabler to deliver effective public services, future infrastructure decisions should be based on their ability to clearly demonstrate their contribution to an inclusive,net zero carbon economy.

We do not underestimate the nature and scale of the challenges facing future infrastructure decisions and recognise difficult decisions will need to be made. This will require bold and determined leadership from the Scottish Government.

However, this is not just a challenge for the public sector. Critically it is a call to everyone who plans, builds, invests in, owns, operates, regulates and, as importantly, uses Scotland’s infrastructure.

If we can all embrace and build on the recommendations set out in this Report, we can go a long way to turning an infrastructure vision for an inclusive,net zero carbon economy into a reality.

An Openreach spokesperson said:

“Having worked closely with the Commission we welcome the report, which is ambitious for Scotland and sets out a long term vision for a truly smart and sustainable nation. We look forward to considering in detail what it means for Openreach and our vital role in delivering the network and engineering skills the country will need. We will continue to engage with the Commission as its work progresses.”

At this stage the first report is somewhat aspirational and lacking in detail, since it mostly focuses on the “why and the what” of infrastructure, rather than the “how“. The next Phase 2 report will look at the latter issue and that should be published a little bit later into 2020 (we think summer time). Hopefully the next report makes some solid recommendations on the implementation side but in the meantime you can read today’s Phase 1 report here.

UPDATE 5:24pm

A comment from Cityfibre.

Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre, said:

“We welcome the Commission’s bold ambition to deliver a full fibre network for the whole of Scotland by 2027 and look forward to working closely with them in the years to come to achieve it.

Creating a future-proof digital infrastructure is of critical importance for the future of the country and will be a vital asset for generations to come. In response to this task, CityFibre is already making huge progress in delivering full fibre networks in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Stirling which is on course to be our first completed Gigabit City in the summer.”

Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    It’s always interesting when a group that has very limited experience of a given subject area makes pronouncements about what other people should do. It’s particularly interesting here that the Commission may take another six months or so to produce the second part of the report covering the “how” component, reducing the limited time available to actually do the work even more!

  2. Avatar Gary

    Par for the course, SGov announced R100 in Dec 2017 with an even then ambitious date of by 2021, It’s now Jan 2020 and not only has nothing has been built under R100 but only 2 of the three lots have contracts in place and the target isn’t actually 100% anymore.

    Reaching almost 100% isn’t such a catchy sounding programme.

  3. Avatar NE555

    “30-year infrastructure strategy” – I wonder what their plan looked like in 1990? 100% coverage of ISDN perhaps?

    https://dilbert.com/strip/1997-11-25

    • Avatar Jonathan

      Perhaps but fibre is the end game in internet connectivity. Unless you believe in quack science and superluminal communication that is. The only way to go better would be hollow optical fibre which will get you a bit less latency, about 20 microseconds on a 20km link. So unless you are a bottom feeding high frequency trader completely irrelevant. Sure we might want to change the optics at either end of the fibre, but the fibre will be the same, and the same as it was 30 years ago.

      It never ceases to amaze me that people don’t quite grasp this about fibre optics

  4. Avatar joe

    Well lesson learned clearly. Scot created a ridiculous 21 target and missed it by mile so lets now have a new unrealistic target.

  5. Avatar Khairul

    The ICS logo looks like something made by a low-grade graphic designer from the 90s!

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