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Confusion Over GBP5bn Project Gigabit Broadband Rollout in Scotland

Wednesday, Apr 13th, 2022 (5:46 pm) - Score 2,040

The Scottish Government have complained that the UK government are yet to provide any “sense” of the delivery timescale, or how much funding will be allocated to it, from the £5bn Project Gigabit broadband rollout. The SG also claims that the project may only target the “cheapest and easiest to reach premises“, at the expense of rural areas.

Project Gigabit seeks to extend 1Gbps download (c.200Mbps upload) capable networks to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 (currently 65%+) and then “nationwide” by 2030 (here and here). The funding released from this will depend upon how the industry responds (so far only £1.2bn has been unlocked), but it is being targeted at the final 20% of hardest to reach premises (commercial builds are expected to do the first 80%+).

NOTE: In Scotland the responsibility for broadband is technically devolved to Westminster, but that doesn’t stop local and devolved authorities from making their own investments (e.g. R100).

Meanwhile, Scotland’s £600m Reaching 100% (R100) contract with Openreach (BT) is already doing quite a good, if somewhat slower than expected, job of extending 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband ISP networks across many of the country’s remaining rural areas by 2027. But a question mark remains over how many Scottish premises will still need a gigabit upgrade once R100 completes.

As a result, the Building Digital UK team and the Scottish Government are currently conducting an Open Market Review (OMR) in order to identify precisely which areas will not benefit from gigabit speeds under existing builds – this covers any related plans for the next 3 years (here). The OMR finished last month and will shortly be followed by a final Public Review (PR) in order to confirm Project Gigabit’s intervention area.

However, BDUK and the Scottish Government are still known to be discussing the thorny issue of how the related funding and procurement will be managed for Scotland. The SG will no doubt want to manage everything itself, while BDUK has been trying to centralise everything around a new Dynamic Purchasing System (DPS) to avoid some of the delays that struck earlier projects (those were shopped out to local authorities).

The catch is that BDUK is taking a long time to get their procurements in England rolling (update) and the longer the two sides take to agree a solution for Scotland, the longer it will be before they actually deliver something practical for constituents. But now Scotland’s Economy Secretary, Kate Forbes, has written an open letter that suggests the two sides may still be struggling to find common ground.

Scotland’s Economy Secretary, Kate Forbes, said:

“It is vital that Scotland benefits from the UK Governments’ £5 billion Project Gigabit, which we think could be rolled out effectively in parallel with R100 delivery. As it stands, there is no sense of how much of the £5 billion will be allocated to Scotland and no timescale for making any such commitment.

Furthermore, we understand that the UK Government’s preferred approach for Project Gigabit is to target the cheapest and easiest to reach premises across the UK, at the expense of more costly rural premises. That would see Project Gigabit have far less of an impact in Scotland, where we have disproportionately more rural premises than other parts of the UK. I have written to the Minister of State for Media, Data, and Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez MP, and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove MP, on this matter and have been disappointed with their responses which appear to confirm that there will be no flexibility for Scotland.

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee has been highly critical of the UK Government’s approach to Project Gigabit. In their report, Delivering Gigabit Capable Broadband, published in January 2022 they said “we are concerned that the Department’s focus on accelerating coverage through rollout by commercial operators rather than by prioritising those areas it knows are hardest to reach risks some of the areas that need improved connectivity most being once again left behind.

Having seen the transformational impact that our R100 investment is having in island and remote rural communities, we will continue to make the case for flexibility, which would ensure that gigabit access can be extended to those most in need of future-proofed connectivity. Without it, Project Gigabit will not deliver what the public expects and is, in fact, more likely to result in a new and more entrenched digital divide between the gigabit haves and have nots.”

In fairness, we think the Economy Secretary might be being a bit unfair in stating that Project Gigabit will only “target the cheapest and easiest to reach premises across the UK, at the expense of more costly rural premises“.

As above, the project is clearly designed to target the final 20% of premises – those that won’t be reached by existing or commercial builds, which are by definition harder and more expensive to reach. No doubt there will be some suburban patches in there too, but this is mostly well beyond the realm of the truly low-hanging fruit.

As ever, politics may be playing a role here, since the longer this goes on – without a clear agreement – then the longer the rollout will take to reach completion. Naturally, the Scottish Government won’t want to be blamed for any delays, but it will still take both sides to tango.

In response to all this, the UK Government (DCMS / BDUK) confirmed (Press & Journal) that Project Gigabit is “specifically focused on making sure hard-to-reach areas don’t miss out on even faster gigabit speeds” and that the “final funding allocation” would depend upon the outcome of their OMR and PR. A range of alternative proposals for those in the most remote final 0.3% of premises are currently also still being debated (here).

Finally, the Scottish Government included a brief update on the rollout progress of their R100 build.

The Latest R100 Update

All of the R100 contract build in the North and South contracts, and 95% of contract build in the Central contract will be fibre to the premises, capable of providing gigabit speeds (up to 1,000 Mbps), and far exceeding our superfast commitment (30 Mbps). As of 28 February 2022, over 5,900 connections had been delivered across the three R100 contracts. A further 9,600 connections are currently in build with over 19,300 premises surveyed with build ready to commence.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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16 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Fastman says:

    this is a bit disengenous i think from Scottish economy sectretary

    Furthermore, we understand that the UK Government’s preferred approach for Project Gigabit is to target the cheapest and easiest to reach premises across the UK, at the expense of more costly rural premises. That would see Project Gigabit have far less of an impact in Scotland, where we have disproportionately more rural premises than other parts of the UK.

    probably more spent in £ per premise in BDUK broadband in scotland than probably any where else in the uk i would hazard a guess (but thats probably not the narrative she was hoping)

  2. Avatar photo Sunil Sood says:

    “In Scotland the responsibility for broadband is technically devolved to Westminster”

    Is that correct?

    I agree with Fastman though – it just sounds as if the Scottish Government is playing politics. For instance, anything in scope for R100 would be out of scope for Project Gigabit.

    1. Avatar photo Gary says:

      They’re never not playing politics. They live to show up Westminster and sometimes it’s the kick they need, but more often than not the hypocrisy is so blatant.

    2. Avatar photo Rich says:

      Yes – Telecommunication is a reserved matter in relation to both Scottish and Welsh devolution. I’d also assume its a reserved matter for Northern Ireland but can’t be 100% sure on that one.

    3. Avatar photo Martin says:

      The Scottish Government has responsibility for some economic development, while Trade and Industry (including Telecomms) is reserved to Westminster. We also have Mr. Gove’s little empire of “Levelling Up” which is another department in the mix.

      Yes there is party politics, however even before devolution there was scoped for interdepartmental points scoring (between the old Scotland Office and DTI).

    4. Avatar photo Sunil Sood says:

      Thanks all.

      I think it was the phasing which threw me.

      If it’s a UK reserved power,it’s not “technically devolved to Westminster”

  3. Avatar photo Alex A says:

    Reaching 100% isn’t a brilliant project name if it still leaves quite a few properties without FTTP.

    “target the cheapest and easiest to reach premises across the UK, at the expense of more costly rural premises“ isn’t correct but I guess that doesn’t fit with the anti Westminster narrative.

    1. Avatar photo Martin says:

      Of course, the Tories like to pretend that the Union is wonderful rather than a project to maintain feudal fatcatism. They fear devolution in case their grouse moors get nationalised!

    2. Avatar photo John H says:

      Would be more truthful if it was called R50 or at a push R60.

    3. Avatar photo Matt says:

      M8 they just removed us from the plan even thow they are a street away then went to the eage jumped over us then put one more in and stopped and there rattling on about how Hertfordshire is compleat forget it I’m done waiting I’ll stick with virgin media 1gbps and wait the long years untill thay replace the coaxl with full fiber done waiting for bt openreach its the same story slow unreliable lieing about dates of completion changing plans alot etc it’s boring now don’t even get me started on hyper optics unless your whole building wants it you have no chance useless

  4. Avatar photo Brian says:

    It won’t take a lot of doing to match the quality of information that comes from Superfast Scotland.

  5. Avatar photo Anon says:

    Ah, the History Graduate who’s an economic expert! She’s 100% playing politics with this statement. Whilst they believe they can manage anything and everything history has shown they really can’t! I really hope the UK gov maintains control of this project. Anything the Nationalist gov gets their hands on turns to

  6. Avatar photo Gary H says:

    Love the R100 update section at the end, lauding the upgrade to FTTP ‘and far exceeding our superfast commitment (30 Mbps)’ yet ignoring the fact that the commitment was R100- reaching 100% with 30Mbs and this commitment has not been honoured, thousands of properties have been excluded.

  7. Avatar photo Alex says:

    Full frtp done were I stay done half the houses openreach & virgin and not the rest so can’t get it over a year ago it a joke

    1. Avatar photo Matt says:

      There fing useless the lot of them

  8. Avatar photo Alistair Webb says:

    Well folks, what a truly unenlightening exchange of views.

    Perhaps we should all just ask both governments the following:

    Who do you think will vote for any of you? If you don’t collaborate with one another, people cannot work effectively and generate taxable income, so keeping you in the governing business.

    No progress in the next 3 years amounts to financial and political suicide, it’s that important for global businesses the 21st. Century.

Comments are closed

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