Good progress on broadband roll-out but chal­lenges re­main

The Oban Times - - News -

ROLL- OUT of broadband in Scot­land is slightly ahead of tar­get but work still needs to be started in harder to reach places, says a re­port pub­lished by Au­dit Scot­land.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise (HIE) are mak­ing good progress in widen­ing ac­cess to high-speed broadband, but ex­tend­ing cov­er­age to ru­ral ar­eas re­mains a chal­lenge. A spokesman for Au­dit Scot­land said: ‘The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment wants ev­ery­one in Scot­land to be able to ac­cess the in­ter­net at any time and on any de­vice, by 2020.

‘To help achieve this, BT was ap­pointed to ex­tend Scot­land’s ex­ist­ing fi­bre broadband net­work in 2013 at a cost of £412 mil­lion. Au­dit Scot­land is mon­i­tor­ing the progress of both the roll- out and the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s dig­i­tal in­fras­truc­ture vi­sion.’

Au­dit Scot­land says that 2.2 mil­lion out of 2.6 mil­lion premises across Scot­land had ac­cess to fi­bre broadband (86 per cent) by March 2016 – one per cent more than the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s orig­i­nal tar­get.

As­sum­ing BT con­tin­ues to meet its con­trac­tual tar­gets, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment can ex­pect to meet its 95 per cent cov­er­age tar­get by De­cem­ber 2017. But work has so far fo­cused on eas­ier to reach ar­eas and the re­main­der of the roll- out will be more chal­leng­ing.

While 26 of Scot­land’s 32 coun­cil ar­eas have met con­trac­tual tar­gets for fi­bre broadband cov­er­age, the ar­eas that re­main are ru­ral or re­mote, and are likely to need more com­pli­cated and costly engi­neer­ing so­lu­tions. Premises in ru­ral ar­eas also cur­rently re­ceive lower aver­age speeds.

Caro­line Gard­ner, Au­di­tor Gen­eral for Scot­land said: ‘Fast, re­li­able in­ter­net ac­cess is in­creas­ingly es­sen­tial for ev­ery­day life, so it’s en­cour­ag­ing to see good progress be­ing made in rolling out fi­bre broadband. How­ever, there is a lot still to be done by the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment if it is to achieve its vi­sion of a world- class dig­i­tal in­fras­truc­ture, par­tic­u­larly in im­prov­ing down­load speeds in ru­ral ar­eas. It’s im­por­tant that it con­tin­ues to mon­i­tor the cost and progress of broadband roll­out so that these com­mu­ni­ties aren’t ex­cluded.’

In re­sponse, Fer­gus Ewing, min­is­ter for ru­ral con­nec­tiv­ity, said: ‘We recog­nise that there is much more we can do at a Scot­land-level to ex­tend cov­er­age, par­tic­u­larly to ru­ral ar­eas.

‘That is why we have made the com­mit­ment that 100 per cent of prop­er­ties across Scot­land will be able to ac­cess su­per­fast broadband by 2021 and I will out­line next steps later this year.’

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