Good progress on broadband roll-out but challenges remain
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.’