The Highlands and Islands region of Scotland is set to get a £3 million investment boost, after take-up rates across the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) network climbed to 60%.
£146 million has now been invested in a core network with fibre access to 180,000 premises, with a mix of FTTP and FTTC.
The project is funded by the Scottish Government in partnership with HIE, Broadband Delivery UK and BT, and is delivered by Openreach. A proportion of the revenue generated is payable to the Scottish Government and HIE over the term of the contract (10 years). Already £2.23 million has been reinvested (2015), with another £3 million now being returned. This will enable the project to connect an additional 30,000 premises.
“Connectivity in the Highlands and islands has been transformed by the Digital Scotland programme. The region as a whole has seen a huge increase in the availability of faster fibre-based services, with thinkbroadband reporting an increase from 18.6% fibre broadband coverage in January 2014 to over 92% today.” Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands
It’s great to see the most remote parts of the UK benefitting from the ‘Network Effect’ – not only does this ensure they are part of the global business and internet community, but it means that businesses can trade with people in these areas and source workers from them. It also means that people in these areas can now set up and trade globally more readily, using the capabilities provided by superfast fibre plus Cloud services. That’s a win-win for everyone. Often, however, it is the fringes of the UK – such as coastal areas and more remote rural areas that suffer from poor connectivity which depresses wages and opportunities and creates a very real digital divide. According to BBC research this results in workers in coastal towns earning £1,600 less than those further inland.
Superfast fibre is one option to help address this, but 5G will also have a significant role to play going forward. Yesterday’s announcement about network sharing from mobile operators for 4G – whereby they will invest £530 million and the government would throw in another £500 million – will bring 4G to 95% of the UK landmass. This is a significant improvement on today, where only 67% has 4G coverage from all four operators and 7% has no coverage. But it should be noted that the agreement still only guarantees 95% coverage – only 2% more than today.
The approach is again premises-based, rather than delivering a completely mobile lifestyle and enabling people to connect in fields, National Parks, on roads, and by the seaside. While we welcome the comments by O2’s chief operating officer, Derek McManus, about how the deal will boost rural connectivity, we fundamentally disagree with his suggestion that it is not commercially viable to connect most of these rural areas. These areas are not abandoned wildernesses, but where people work and play. People do not have to live in them to need to connect there; and they also should be connected for safety reasons, as well as for leisure and business purposes. But it’s not just people that need to be connected in rural areas. Many of the IoT use cases we envisage require connectivity there because the UK countryside and coastline is a highly productive machine – producing sustainable energy, food, fuel, raw materials, water and many other products.
We believe that the £500 million the government has provided as a subsidy could easily have been funded by the UK mobile industry, with O2 alone making £2.98 billion in the six months to 30 June, with underlying profits of £919 million. (see also Tackling the blackspots – is enforced national roaming the answer?)