Minister claims Scotland will be years ahead on digital connectivity
The Scottish R100 project has been a lengthy process and a bit more detail has emerged about the fate of Lots 2 and 3 which were awarded to BT. We now have a rough timescale and what to expect technology wise. Lot 1 is still up in the air due to a legal challenge and if that drags on could cause problems for anyone claiming Scotland will be ahead of the curve.
This roll-out means Scotland will have enhanced digital connectivity years ahead of the rest of the UK.
R100 will ensure that Scotland is ahead of the curve, not just in the UK, but internationally.
Through our investment, we will extend full-fibre broadband to much of rural Scotland, going beyond our original commitment, and helping to deliver future-proofed economic, social and environmental benefits for the whole country.
This is one of the most challenging broadband infrastructure builds anywhere in the world, and this, combined with the decision to future-proof our technology, means the work will take time to complete.
We are also setting up a voucher scheme which will launch later this year. This will provide grants to broadband customers, ahead of the delivery of the R100 contracts, to support access to a range of technologies and suppliers.
It is disappointing not to be able to announce details of the contract for the North Lot due to a dispute over the awarding of the contract, but the Scottish Government is doing its utmost to ensure that people in the north of Scotland can access superfast broadband through the R100 programme as soon as possible, including through our voucher scheme.Minister for Connectivity Paul Wheelhouse updating parliament
So what have learnt about Lots 2 and 3:
- LOT 2 (Central Scotland). Build is expected to reach 47,000 premises using £83 million of investment out of the 55,000 in the area identified as without superfast broadband access. No exact figures on the breakdown of technology but the vast majority will be delivered via full fibre.
- LOT 3 (South Scotland). Expecting all but 200 premises to benefit from the roll-out and all to be done using full fibre with an investment of £133 million, so 99% of the 26,000 premises with FTTP.
- TIMESCALE By the end of 2021 if the build goes ahead and keeps to the initial plans around half should be completed i.e. 23,000 in lot 2 and 12,000 in lot 3. The completion of the two lots that can proceed is expected to be the end of 2023.
The simple view therefore is that the target of 100% superfast coverage across Scotland by the end of 2021 is NOT going to happen, but this being politics there is some spinning possible that by virtue of the voucher those who are not helped will be able to access the vouchers and get access via fixed wireless, 4G, satellite or some other magicial solution. Alas we've been here before with vouchers and while useful they only ever seem to exist as short term sticking plasters.
So what difference will adding 73,000 superfast premises make to the Scottish situation, well based on what we have today it will lift Scotland from 94% superfast coverage to 96.6%, though given the existing roll-out is still adding around 0.1 percentage points each quarter it will be higher. The other big unknown currently is the fate of Lot 1 and the around 99,000 premises that this should help.
In terms of full fibre coverage, Scotland with 7.77% is at the bottom of heap compared to Northern Ireland 35.57%, Wales 11.38% and England 10.95%. We don't know the total that number of FTTP expected from Lots 2 and 3 but if it was all the premises the Scottish total would be 10.37% and thus still behind the other nations in the United Kingdom. Of course with the commercial roll-outs of full fibre underway and accelerating the numbers will be different but as things stand today there is no reason to expect Scotland to get an unusually high proportion of the roll-outs.
So it is not clear to us how Scotland is going to be ahead of the curve, unless the Minister is expecting no new superfast infrastructure to be built in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for several years. Internationally the UK and its constituent parts do fare better on the international stage for availability of 30 Mbps speeds but the comparisons have moved on and while getting the slowest areas onto superfast is important in a couple of years those with notional coverage at 30 Mbps but seeing 25, 26, 27 Mbps in daily usage will be more vocal about wanting upgrade options to full fibre.
Scotland has a slightly different way of categorising rural and urban areas, which we do cover intermitently a useful article that gives a time line for the rising levels of superfast coverage is from 2017. Today will share the full set of superfast, full fibre figures and thus as we roll through 2020 and finally reach 2023 we can refer back to where things were.
Other factors at play in the next few years are the broadband USO, Gigabit target and any extensions from gainshare investment. On the USO for those where there is a plan to deliver something that is better than the USO in the 12 months after you apply you will not be eligible. The bigger one is the race to 100% Gigabit coverage for 2025, which makes the decision in Lot 2 to not use full fibre throughout a bit odd, one has to presume that even with the £1,765 average investment that some are simply not cost effective and need either higher subsidies. The other unknown with the £5 billion Gigabit coverage scheme is how it will operate in reaching the 10% to 20% that are not reached commercially, i.e. lots of mini contracts just like old BDUK process or a new centrally administered single contract, likely to be something in between. On the gainshare investment, since lots 2 and 3 are with BT it is feasible that this may already be factored into what is happening with the R100 contracts, without access to reams and reams of paperwork it is impossible to tell and 99.9% don't care they just want better connectivity built yesterday.
|thinkbroadband analysis of broadband coverage across the urban and rural areas of Scotland|
In descending order of number of premises - figures 10th January 2020
|Area||% full and partial fibre based |
i.e. VDSL2, G.fast or
faster than 24 Mbps
30 Mbps or faster
100 Mbps or faster
FTTP, cable, G.fast
Full Fibre All Providers
|% Under 2 Mbps download||% Below USO|
10 Mbps download
1 Mbps upload
We do not count ADSL2+ as USO compliant
Large Urban Area
40% of Scotland
Other Urban Area
27.7% of Scotland
13.8% of Scotland
Accessible Small Town
8% of Scotland
3.4% of Scotland
Very Remote Rural
3.3% of Scotland
Remote Small Town
2.4% of Scotland
Very Remote Small Town
1.3% of Scotland
Scotland is working with a 30 Mbps and faster definition of superfast broadband, but we have left our lower definition of over 24 Mbps in the tables as the gap between the two helps to illustrate the impact of distance on the figures e.g. in urban areas where cabinets are a lot closer together the difference between the two figures is very small.