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Scotland Reveals Plans For Fibre Broadband Rollout

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Scotland plans to significantly ramp up average broadband speeds north of the border

Scotland is to add a tad more fibre to its digital infrastructure diet with the news of a superfast broadband plan announced by the Scottish government.

The plan, dubbed ‘Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan‘ was unveiled by Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil. In a nutshell it aims for a “step-change” in broadband speeds in Scotland by 2015, and “world-class digital access” to all of Scotland by 2020.

Ambitious Goals

The plan is highly ambitious to say the least. The UK national average broadband speed is currently around the 6.8Mbps mark (although many people in reality receive much much lower speeds).

The Scottish government said its ambition is to deliver broadband speeds of 40-80Mbps for up to 85 percent to 90 percent of Scottish premises by 2015 using the fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) delivery model, with “an uplift in service” for the remaining 15 percent.

But how is it planning to finance such an ambitious rollout of fibre?

Well it seems that it will use the allocated funding from the UK government’s £530 million Broadband delivery UK (BDUK) fund, coupled with money from the Scottish government (and European funding) and local councils.

Last August, the British government set aside £362 million to English and Scottish councils for a fibre rollout into non commercially viable areas, but the Scottish government complained furiously that the £68.8 million to be invested in Scotland was simply not enough money.

“I am disappointed with the allocation from the UK Government towards the Scottish Government’s ambition for roll out of next generation broadband across the whole of Scotland,” said Alex Neil at the that time.

Show Me The Money

But under the Scottish government’s ‘Infrastructure Action Plan’, it will use the £68.8 million it was allocated from the BDUK fund and will cough up £79.5 million from Scotland’s national budget, although it should be noted that up to £25.5 million of this will come from EU funding.

A further £40 million has “already been earmarked by local authorities” for the deployment, bringing the grand total to approximately £188 million. That is the public money, although it also hopes to use some of the £150 million Government fund to eliminate so-called mobile phone notspots in those tough to reach Scottish locations.

And the Scottish government also said it wanted hundreds of millions of pounds to be invested from private firms too (i.e. BT etc), which seems a hugely ambitious ask in the current economic climate.

“This plan is a crucial step towards achieving world-class digital connectivity across Scotland, substantially improving the ability of our businesses to compete in worldwide markets,” said Neil. “It will ensure our communities, particularly those in rural and remote areas, remain vibrant, strong and connected.”

“This plan sets out how we will work with the private sector, but also acknowledges public funding will be vital for hard to reach areas,” he said. “We have already identified substantial funding totalling £185 million, and aim to build on that significantly, in particular through levering in private funding.”

Ambitious Scotland

“The Scottish Broadband Plan setting out a 2015 and 2020 set of goals is welcome news, as now residents and businesses will have some idea of how broadband should look in 2015,” said Andrew Ferguson, editor of Thinkbroadband.com. “We also now know that the contract will be awarded in 2013, meaning work should commence that year.”

The target of 40 Mbps to 80 Mbps for some 85 percent to 90 percent of premises is more ambitious than the common goal of 30Mbps or faster most local authorities have set, but until we know more about what technology is to be deployed, it is impossible to say if Scotland will have a better broadband infrastructure than the UK average in 2015,” he added.

“The bidding process in Scotland currently only has one major provider lined up, that of BT, but it is possible that with the publication of the plan, and the procurement strategy in March 2012 only supplies may decide to step forward,” Ferguson concluded.