Broadband roll-out faces its toughest hurdle

20 September 2018
Superfast broadband for Scotland

The Scottish Government achieved its initial target to provide fibre broadband access to 95 per cent of premises. Its more recent 'Reaching 100 per cent' ambition will be more difficult to realise.

A new report today from the Auditor General looks at public sector spending to reach areas not covered by commercial providers. Up to 31 March 2018, £259 million had been paid to BT for broadband roll-out. Lower costs and higher take-up is expected to enable around 60,000 more premises to be reached than originally planned.

People's experience of broadband speeds is often lower than those claimed, depending on technology and the package chosen. Overall speeds have increased across Scotland, but rural homes and offices still lag behind urban areas - around a quarter cannot receive 10 Mb/s.

The "Reaching 100 per cent" programme says every home and business will have access to superfast broadband (speeds of 30 Mb/s or more) by the end of 2021.

The Scottish Government has committed £600 million initial investment to deliver superfast broadband to 147,000 premises, with contracts to be awarded early next year. Further investment may be required to reach all premises.

The report also points out that Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) did not deliver on its anticipated benefits. CBS was set up to back local initiatives but only 13 of the 63 it helped finance have proved successful.

Community groups say this has undermined their confidence in the Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to support rural broadband. The report says lessons need to be learned from this.

Fraser McKinlay, Audit Scotland's Director of Performance Audit and Best Value, said:

"Fast, reliable internet access is now considered an essential part of everyday life.

"Good progress has been made to date but the toughest hurdle remains - to extend the benefits to everyone, particularly remote and rural communities.

"As well as being the toughest hurdle, it is not yet clear how the Scottish Government is going to fulfill its pledge to deliver superfast broadband to everyone by the end of 2021."