100% Or Bust: Scotland’s Broadband Minister Puts His Job on the Line
“We’re on the case!” says Broadband Minister, discussing Scotland’s ambition to give 100% of premises access to superfast broadband by 2021.
The Scottish Government‘s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, has said he’ll step down if he fails to deliver on the new £600 million Scotland R100 project, which promises to make superfast (30Mbps+) broadband available to “every single premise in Scotland” by the end of 2021.
In a speech at the Scottish Land & Estates Conference Mr Ewing said:
“If I don’t deliver this by 2021, I think it will be time for Fergus Ewing to depart and do something else, and leave the job to somebody else. But I can assure you, we’re on the case.”
The current Digital Scotland project with Openreach has given 30Mbps+ capable networks to approximately 93% of premises, helping an additional 890,000 premises to gain access to faster connectivity. The new R100 programme will follow-on from this programme and is expected to begin deployment in 2019.
A number of suppliers including BT, Gigaclear, Axione and SSE Enterprise Telecoms, are bidding on the R100 contract, which states there will be 178,948 premises eligible for intervention across three regional lots. However previous reports have predicted that approximately 280,000 premises could be left without access to superfast broadband by the time the current Digital Scotland project is complete.
Has Mr Ewing put himself in a tricky position? According to ThinkBroadband:
“Overall our latest figures suggest that to deliver 100% superfast (30 Mbps and faster) broadband in Scotland would need another 175,415 premises, so the size of the R100 project scope looks reasonable. This is course if no-one builds any new homes in Scotland, In 2017 we saw 11,026 new premises (85% superfast) across Scotland, 2016 had 13,081 premises (80% superfast), 2015 had 13,815 premises (85.6% superfast), 2014 was 12,543 premises (87.2% superfast). Therefore if the trend of building new homes and 10 to 20% not having superfast access continues in three years time there may be another 4,000 to 8,000 premises needing help to reach the R100 target (i.e. 10 to 20% of 40,000 new premises in the time period).”
Think Broadband also notes that the amount of funding for R100 makes it entirely possible for the project to provide full fibre:
“…with the three lots having an gap funding level of £5,097 per property in the Southern lot, £3,867 in the Northern lot and the Central lot £1,549. The size of the three lots back then was 178,948 premises with a total project fund of £600m. This is well above the funding levels of any other broadband project in the UK where generally funding is capped at around the £1,700 per premises level and that sort of funding does deliver full fibre.”
Concluding that: “Given the size of the funding theoretically available if the lot winners do not deliver the majority of connections using full fibre then serious investigations will need to be undertaken into the actual costs of services.”
Given this uncertainty and the early stage of the R100 project, it’s not clear if Mr Ewing knows something we’re not yet privy to or if, like many of his Tory colleagues, he’s simply keen to ‘spend more time with his family’.