Friday afternoon fact check on Scottish broadband position
Twitter can be a wonderful medium but it can also be very devisive and rather than attempt a very long thread there on how the four UK nations stand we will walk our way through a twitter thread that Nicola Sturgeon First Minister of Scotland has on twitter.
Primary bullet point numbers relate to the twitter thread, latest figures where quoted are from last analysis on 23rd November 2017 and these figures have not been pushed to the public site yet, but any variation will be minor, but the fact we need to warn about this does highlight how the picture is changing daily. Where comparisons are around superfast broadband figures we are using the 30 Mbps and faster definition, an important note the UK 95% by end of 2017 target will be using the over 24 Mbps definition.
The 95% fibre based target, has been a source of confusion for some years and was covered in detail back in October. So based on two most likely definitions the standings are as follows:
- If fibre based means any speed with VDSL2/FTTP/cable then the four nations are England 97.2%, Scotland 96.1%, Wales 96.1% and Northern Ireland 98.5%
- If fibre based means VDSL2/FTTP/cable at speeds above 15 Mbps then it is England 97%, Scotland 94.2%, Wales 94.7%, Nothern Ireland 88.4%
- The Digital Scotland project was established and we covered the financial split back in 2013, when the Westminster contribution was said to be £50m, though we are not totally sure if that is £50 across the whole of Scotland or the Rest of Scotland project area in the news item. As with English local authorities the funding from Westminster was expected to be at least match funded.
The most recent published Ofcom State of the Nations report is from December 2016 and is talking about the coverage levels based on data from broadband providers given in April 2016. The latest report is due any day now and is expected to be a summary of where the position was in April 2017. We look at the change for the four nations in the last 12 months.
- England change in fibre based (any speed) since Nov 2016 +1.6 percentage points
- Scotland change in fibre based (any speed) since Nov 2016 +4.4 percentage points
- Wales change in fibre based (any speed) since Nov 2016 +2.3 percentage points
- Northern Ireland change in fibre based (any speed) since Nov 2016 +1.1 percentage points
- England change in superfast broadband since Nov 2016 +2.1 percentage points
- Scotland change in superfast broadband since Nov 2016 +5 percentage points
- Wales change in superfast broadband since Nov 2016 +3.5 percentage points
- Northern Ireland change in superfast broadband since Nov 2016 +8.9 percentage points
This change is a lot smaller than the First Minister is talking about but the pace of change in Scotland is high, but if we compare fibre based coverage between April 2016 and April 2015, i.e. line up with last public Ofcom reports we have a change of 10.3% in the fibre based figure. This period coincides with when the larger VDSL2 cabinets were being rolled out and thus the pace was higher, which is visible when you view our historical trend charts.
- The stated R100 aim in Scotland is 100% superfast broadband coverage by 2021, so in terms of delivery compared to the 10 Mbps USO yes it should give better results, but as with the USO where actual delivery has not been finalised in terms of who does it, who pays and what technology there are questions around the R100 project to the same extent.
- To add to point 4, the real concerns for those who may fall within either the R100 project or the broadband USO is the exact timescales since waiting another couple of years if your broadband is already inadequate is incredibly frustrating and how much of either project will rely on satellite broadband which while it works still carries a significant performance difference between decent fixed line or fixed wireless broadband access. Or put another way, for those that can get ADSL at speeds of 4 to 5 Mbps many are likely to retain that rather than upgrade solely to a superfast satellite connection.
- The First Minister states 'work to do', and similar phrasing can be heard from Westminster and we would add that with the new push towards full fibre even if an area reaches 100% superfast coverage pressure will soon mount for further improvements to avoid the perception gap with those areas where full fibre is available.
The situation in Scotland is such that with so many areas starting from effectively zero fibre or superfast based coverage the pace of change was always going to much more rapid given the goals, i.e. England in November 2012 was at 71.1% fibre based versus Scotland at a much lower 42.7% (November 2012 is one month before the first BDUK cabinet appeared in North Yorkshire.
If there is one recommendation we would make to politicians and any other official who is talking about what a BDUK project has delivered, please make it clear what you mean by fibre based, high speed broadband, fast broadband as there are many varied definitions and while we can usually decipher the likely meaning it is common to see local press who do not live and breathe broadband to get confused and transpose fibre based coverage targets or totals with superfast, and for example in the Unity Authority that covers the Highlands this can be a big difference i.e. currently 90.9% with anything fibre based but this drops to 76.2% with a superfast access option. We need to highlight something that has become clear when members of the public query our figures and that many presume that fibre based coverage does equal superfast broadband and at times we feel that it is an uphill battle with the constant explanations.