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Shetland Threatens to Go it Alone on Future Broadband Upgrades

Tuesday, July 7th, 2020 (3:41 pm) - Score 1,787
shetland lerwick harbour

The remote Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has decide to start exploring the possibility of extending “superfast broadband” coverage across the island(s) by itself, which they say is due to a “failure to deliver” under the Scottish Government’s wider £600m R100 (Reaching 100%) programme.

The R100 scheme has been hit by various delays since it was announced several years ago. BT (Openreach) was widely expected to pick-up the contract for the relevant LOT 1 (Northern Scotland) area last year (here), which was originally valued at c.£384m; this reflects about 100,000 premises across the Highlands and Islands, Angus, Aberdeen and Dundee.

NOTE: At present only around three quarters of Shetland can access a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service.

Unfortunately, that plan fell through after it emerged that rival bidder Gigaclear had lodged a legal challenge against the award due to claims of a “manifest error” in the procurement process (here). The case is expected to be heard in a few weeks’ time and the hope is that a conclusion can be reached before the end of this year, which is when the current state aid agreement runs out.

Meanwhile the contracts that have already been awarded to BT, specifically LOT 2 (Central Scotland) and LOT 3 (South Scotland), are not due to fully complete until the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively. As a result, the SIC are concerned that they may have to wait even longer before their side of LOT 1 is finished, assuming it even gets going in the first place.

Councillor Steven Coutts, SIC Political Leader, said (Shetnews):

“We have had words and commitments from government but little action. The failure to deliver has left a significant digital divide across our community.

This was laid bare as we responded to Covid-19 restrictions and the need to work and study and retain social contact through digital means. For many across Shetland, they simply couldn’t do this. That is unacceptable.

The latest legal challenge to R100 is another delay to the programme. As a council we will now be looking to assess what we can do to scope out what is needed. This is very much at early stages but we are losing faith in government programmes to properly design and deliver for Shetland.”

In fairness, this frustration is shared by the Scottish Government, which are equally keen to get the ball rolling on LOT 1 but have little option except to wait for the court case to proceed. As the Scottish Minister for Connectivity, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “We are as disappointed as local authorities … at the delay this is causing to the north lot … We are happy to discuss with Shetland Islands Council any proposals it might have.”

A new voucher scheme is due to launch soon, which will be designed to help fill the void while a proper solution is found, although we’re still awaiting the final details on that (here). However, the idea of going it alone seems like a difficult proposition for such a remote community, which will only have very limited funding available.

Lest we forget that developing another scheme and awarding contracts can take an awfully long time, which may or may not result in the R100 situation being resolved before that even has a chance to get off the ground. At this stage it’s difficult to say whether this is all just a case of playing politics or if there’s something more tangible to the proposed direction. Time will tell.

Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. Avatar Archie

    Uh oh! I was lead to believe that SNP were beyond reproach and almost godly in their ability to govern. Apparently not. Good on you Shetland.

    If the Faroes have some ridiculously high speed link to Scotland and can supply fibre to everyone then why not Shetland?

    • Avatar Matthew

      In fairness isn’t the Faroe island fibre cable go via Shetland as well? It’s not the matter of getting the fibre to the islands that is the issue i believe more getting the connectivity locally

  2. Avatar Kurt

    Perhaps Shetland Council should send the FTTP bill to Gigaclear?

  3. Avatar Ray Woodward

    Good for them!

  4. Avatar Ryan

    Good for Shetland, I wish the Highland Council could take the same lead on this, none of us are getting any younger and it’s frankly disgraceful that in 2020 we are fighting for super fast broadband never mind ultra fast. More constituency need to stand up and take action.

  5. Avatar Scottie

    Be good to understand what they have delivered with the £1.91m already allocated to support connectivity. How has that helped deliver additiionality ? Not seen any procurement info on that https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/03/shetland-secures-1-91m-for-full-fibre-broadband-network-build.html
    Biggest issue appears to be in the north isles requiring Subsea connection I suppose…

    • Avatar Gary

      I had a search after reading your post, Aye there doesnt seem to be either much information or much progress since that article over a year ago, Not exactly blasting their way forward with that one LFFN project, who knows how long they’d take starting from scratch with a new FTTP for all procurement and then deployment.

  6. Avatar Darren

    If the Scottish government is getting tied up with legal challenges causing delays, what makes the Highland council think they can bypass that? If they can, then great. Let the Scottish government hand them the money to allocate in Shetland.

    • Avatar Jonathan

      Shetland council are perfectly entitled to spend their money how they see fit within the confines of the law. Given the business rates they have attracted from Sullom Voe over the years, it’s my understanding they have plenty of money.

      They are perfectly entitled to put out a tender for say 100% FTTP, pick a winner and spend their money. This would be unaffected by the current legal process from Gigaclear because it’s a different tender.

    • Avatar Gary

      Johnathan,

      Could they get away with a monopoly deal with a supplier ? Sadly I dont think they could, which then makes it hard to present a good investment case.
      This is one of the problems with the competition approach to FTTP, its a big investment with a long term return/profit, which potentially gets erroded by another operator deploying.

      If Shetland were able to parner with a provider exclusively theres potential for both parties to gain a return on their investment long term. Comes with issues obviously regarding freedom choice and nowhere else to goto if the service is poor but it doesnt have to be that way.

  7. Avatar Brian

    I’m not surprised. Many are fed up with the R100 delays, even in lot 3 still no news of which properties are going to be connected and when. Ten years of better broadband coming soon is wearing thin.

  8. Avatar Gary

    This is what you get for fairness and competition. The Governemt cant even award a contract to their preferred Bidder.

    Love to see that in regular life, you visit a couple of car dealerships choose a BMW then cant buy it because Lada object.

    Looking at some of the costings to prrovide 4G coverage where its not currently a viable option for broadband use i have doubts that the value of any vouchers are going to make much of a dent in the costs involved. Surely there cant be a significant number of areas without 4G coverage AND with the population density to warrant a voucher driven 4G build.

    The very reason there are dead spots in 4G is that the areas werent considered populated enough or close enough to a major transport route to be worth it a few vouchers isn’t going to change that by a whole lot not for a rural build.

    All opinion, If anyones got industry knowledge of costs for towers, equipment,power supply and backhaul provision, feel free to disagree, I’d honestly like to be wrong on this.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Look at it another way.

      OK so you have pushed the fibre out to the cell site which is needed either for 4G or FTTP. And OK you wouldn’t necessarily but the GPON or PtP node where the cell tower would be but bear with me.

      Then the relevant commercial question then is does it cost more or less or about the same to put the FTTP in than the cost of the cell tower kit?

      If less than or equal to: FTTP is the best way forwards and then give the consumers femto, or femto+ with outdoor antennae, cells to plug into the FTTP to create the 4G network. The femto feed can then be handled separately to the consumer provision of FTTP.

      All existing off the shelf tech.

  9. Avatar Mark

    There are also dead spots for 4G due to planning restrictions, AONB and the public objecting to appearance and the so called health concerns,yes with population and A roads nearby. It’s not all down to costs and viability.

    • Avatar Leex

      If it wasn’t just as simple to turn masts off locally for 1-2 weeks and direct all complaints to local council for reason why they have no coverage (and what to do to petition to get the mast installed)

      due to 3-5 people who are “radio sensitivity type” and some old 70 year olds who are in the local Parish board or council board is how a lot of these plans get rejected (because they don’t care, as they quite happy with there 2g/3g Nokia 3210 phone)

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