The rollout of broadband in Scotland remains a contentious issue, with the governments in Westminster and Holyrood throwing claims, accusations and counter-claims back and forth like cabers in an increasingly bitter highland games.
While the provision of broadband is a reserved issue, leaving responsibility with the government in Westminster, the Scottish government has responsibility to provide broadband in areas where it is not economically viable i.e. the highlands, islands and remote rural areas.
This split in responsibility has contributed to the sense of fun, allowing both governments to claim that the other are too slow, under-investing, focused on the wrong areas and ultimately failing the people of Scotland, to many of whom Netflix remains only a rumour.
Thankfully the investigative political journal The Ferret is on hand to look at the claims and figure out where the truth lies. In the recent past, the publication disproved the Prime Minister’s claim that Scotland’s government has broadband powers and should use them to benefit the people of Scotland.
Now The Ferret has looked at the Scottish government’s claims that the country has the most rapidly improving broadband in the UK.
Rural Superfast Broadband
The 2016 Ofcom Connected Nations report shows that the percentage of homes covered by Superfast (30 Mbps) broadband grew from 30% to 46% from 2015 to 2016, a year on year increase of 46%, which was indeed the highest growth in the UK.
So the claim is accurate, but it doesn’t provide any context about broadband provision across the rest of the UK. Despite Scotland having have the greatest increase of superfast broadband in rural areas from 2015 to 2016, the country did actually lag the other nations in terms of availability.
In 2016 46% of Scotland’s rural areas had access to superfast broadband. This compared to 52% for Northern Ireland, 57% for Wales, 62% for England and 59% for the UK as a whole.
The 2017 Think Broadband report showed the increases for Scotland’s accessible, remote and very remote rural locations, showing growth across all areas:
- Accessible Rural – 72.10% of premises can access superfast broadband
- Remote Rural – 60.6%
- Very Remote Rural – 54.4%
UK Broadband Coverage
The most recent data in Ofcom’s 2017 Connected Nations report, shows superfast broadband availability for each nation as a whole, rather than splitting out the rural areas. Helpfully, it does not include year-on-year availability increases, so we cannot compare the 2017 data with 2016.
As it stands, Scotland’s superfast broadband coverage has hit 87% which is behind the UK average of 91%. Availability in the other nations is: England 92%, Wales 89% and Northern Ireland 85%.
The Ofcom report also notes the UK as a whole has a serious divide between urban and rural superfast broadband provision. Around 17% of the UK’s rural premises cannot receive ‘decent’ broadband, in contrast to only 2% of premises in urban areas. In Northern Ireland this figure rises to 23% and in Scotland 27% of rural properties unable to access decent broadband.
£600M For 100%
The situation changing on an ongoing basis. The Scottish government reaffirmed its commitment to its R100 policy of getting 100% of premises in Scotland access to superfast broadband by 2020, with a £600 million pledge in the autumn 2017 budget and the news that the procurement process for the programme is now underway.
The UK government has in the meantime pledged to remove broadband powers from the Scottish government and instead place them in the hands of local authorities.
DIGIT will, of course, keep you posted.