Greater ambition needed to ensure broadband future in Scotland
Scotland published its Broadband Infrastructure Action Plan back in January, which by and large reflects the same ambitions and goals as Westminster, but with a little more emphasis on the 2020 EU target date.
The Scottish Parliament's Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee has published a report into the infrastructure plan, and highlights the need for greater ambition.
"A reliable and fast broadband connection helps socially but it is especially crucial in enabling businesses to be able to compete on the world stage.
High-quality digital infrastructure in Scotland is essential and our committee welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to delivering this.
We received evidence from a wide range of individuals, communities and businesses concerned about unreliable and slow internet connections.
These issues were shown to have a particularly detrimental effect on small and medium-sized businesses outside the main urban centres of Scotland.
To ensure that Scotland has the broadband services it needs, ambitious targets for the roll out of broadband infrastructure are needed, with a target of delivering a world-class broadband infrastructure to 100% of Scotland’s population by 2020."Committee Convener Maureen Watt MSP
The full report highlights many concerns, and while the demographics of Scotland do not match many parts of the UK, an awful lot of the concerns and points raised do apply. Those who have delved into the BDUK projects will have seen areas split into commercial and non-commercial areas, alas there is a danger that the grey area that will inevitably exist between these two areas may miss out on investment from both government and commercial operators. Areas that immediately spring to mind, are parts of a town, that is far from rural (a term that is almost fixated upon in broadband projects) but due to distance or other factors is not commercially viable, or worse was on original roll-out plans, but was dropped at a later date.
|Broadband ambitions around Europe|
|Luxembourg||by 2015, to provide fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) for every household; by 2020, to provide 1 Gbps (gigabit per second) to every household|
|Sweden||by 2015, 40% of households and businesses to have access to 100Mbps; by 2020, 90% of households and businesses to have access to 100Mbps|
|Denmark||by 2020 100% of households and businesses to have access to 100Mbps|
|Spain||by 2015, 100Mbps available to 50% of the population|
The EU 2020 target is a much lower 30 Mbps to all households, with half subscribing to a 100 Mbps service. Dr Jason Whalley a senior lecturer in the Department of Management Science at Strathclyde University, in the committee's report asserted that the target speed of 40-80Mpbs did not have the same aspirational dimension as Sweden’s target of 100Mbps.
Evidence given by Arqiva reveals some interesting facts, based on their assessments, solutions need at least 50 households per cabinet to make it economic to deploy, and has reached the conclusion that given current levels of money some 105,000 homes across Scotland will need to be served with fixed wireless to meet current ambitions, and another 25,000 homes would only receive satellite based broadband (some 12,000 of these being in the Highlands and Islands region).
The subject of digital hubs, which at one time was a catch-phrase much loved at the start of the BDUK projects arose (points 56 to 57), with Professor Michael Fourman, from the Royal Society of Edinburgh suggesting that a fibre backbone be created for the country, with deployment of open access hubs in communities of 2,000 or more people. BT and Virgin Media pointed out that the majority of the cost in deploying fibre solutions is not the core network, but the final lengths from the exchange (hub) to the cabinet or homes. Also there will be plenty of communities in Scotland with a population under 2,000 who already have a fibre hub in the form of BT telephone exchange. We would add that while the price of access to Openreach backhaul fibre may not be perfect, with several fibre backbones present in the more populated parts of Scotland is creating yet another the most cost effective thing to do.
Talk is cheap, and at this time it is not clear what positive changes may arise from this report, but we do know that these debates should have been held back in 2009-2010. The reports though are in the right timeframe for ensuring that the period of 2015 to 2020 will be a period of even more ambitious broadband growth.