Development of Broadband in Scotland
The subject has been heavily politicised by Tory MP’s recently elected to represent Scottish communities, leading to a huge amount of hot air and misinformation.
The purpose of this article is to highlight aspects of a number of debates at Westminster and in the press. References and dates are provided so that readers can access full scripts of meetings so that they will be able to assess the correctness of the extensive paraphrasing of various statements.
26 Oct 2017: Theresa May Attacks Scotland’s Broadband Coverage
There were red faces for the Tories, in the Commons yesterday after Theresa May attacked the Scottish Government over superfast broadband roll-out, an issue that’s wholly reserved to the Westminster Government.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Tory MP Luke Graham attacked the Scottish Government for not doing enough to get superfast broadband out to householders.
He said: “As of 2016, 17 per cent of the premises of in Scotland were without superfast broadband. This is compared with just 11 per cent for the UK as a whole.”
Graham then asked the Prime Minister to join with him in “calling on the Scottish Government to do more and to constructively engage with departments in Westminster to deliver this crucial service to communities in Scotland”.
The Prime Minister replied: “Can I say to my honourable friend, I think we all recognise the importance of broadband and fast broadband being available to people in our constituencies. It is for the Scottish Government to deliver this. (The National)
Comment: The Scottish Government had to intervene, given the importance of high quality broadband to the economy and the Westminster Government’s “lack of ambition” rolling out broadband access across Scotland’s widespread rural areas.
16 November 2017: Westminster Debates: Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Digital Infrastructure Investment
Colin Clark: Does the Minister agree that it is vital that the Westminster Government should invest in digital infrastructure if productivity is to be improved, particularly in rural areas like Gordon in northern Scotland ?
The constituency which I represent is a big part of Aberdeenshire, but is rated 613th for broadband performance in Scotland. That is disappointing for constituents and disastrous for business.
Matthew Hancock The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport: Absolutely. The Westminster Government is ensuring that we roll out the current generation of technology.
In terms of the next generation of technology the Westminster Government will deal directly with local representatives and authorities in Scotland by-passing the Scottish Government, because the Westminster Government intend to control the agenda for telecoms change ensuring networking upgrading is prioritised in areas suited to the political climate at that time.
Comment: Scots be fore-warned. The Thatcher-like asset stripping “agenda” that will follow Brexit will render a government in Scotland null and void with consequences. (theyworkforyou)
22 November 2017: Westminster Debates: Rural Communities in Scotland: Broadband
John Lamont MP: BT and “Openreach” are not without blame.
Following negotiations and demands from Ofcom, “Openreach” is now a legally separate entity, but it is still wholly owned by BT’s parent holding company, BT Group plc.
The situation we find ourselves in, in Scotland, with a massive digital divide between urban and rural, has been entirely created by historical decisions made by the Westminster Government centralised control and direction of BT.
Had BT been instructed to invest in Scotland’s network in the way that it should have, both governments would not be facing these difficult challenges today.
BT has been permitted by the Westminster government to systematically pick off the low-hanging fruit in broadband roll-out, focusing it attention on cities and commercially viable areas to the exclusion of the much harder-to-get residents in Scotland’s rural communities because of the additional costs it would incur and which the Westminster Government would not finance.
By design the Westminster Government has forced many rural communities in Scotland to look at self-help options to find solutions for their poor broadband connections when “Openreach” has refused to help. Scots are innovative and smart, but many have struggled with the bureaucracy of the schemes and the cost involved.
Ofcom’s December 2016 report, “Connected Nations”, which has been referred to, describes the urban-rural divide well, states:
“While 89% of premises in the United Kingdom can receive superfast broadband, there are 1.4 million premises that cannot get download speeds greater than 10 megabits per second. Those are disproportionately in rural areas, and the problem is particularly bad in Scotland.”
Comment: The vast bulk of rural areas are in Scotland and they have suffered greatly from many decades of under investment by the Westminster government. Rural communities in the Scottish Borders and in the Highlands need to be given an increased broadband development priority fully financed by the Westminster controlled “Openreach” corporation. (theyworkforyou)
01 Dec 2017: Setting the record straight on broadband in Scotland – By Fergus Ewing Msp
Scottish Conservative MPs at Westminster have spent the past weeks spreading misinformation on the facts of broadband in Scotland culminating in this letter to the First Minister:
Dear First Minister,
Over the last week, you have made a number of remarks regarding the roll-out of broadband in Scotland. Ultimately, we are all in agreement that the priority is people having the decent broadband connections they need, because we know that broadband is not a luxury; it is crucial for businesses and individuals across Scotland. However, we have serious concerns about the speed of broadband roll-out in Scotland and your Government has questions to answer. To be clear, we are not disputing what you have done. We are criticising what you have not done.
In 2014, the UK Government allocated over £20m for Phase 2 of the superfast broadband roll-out to the Scottish Government, designed to deliver superfast broadband coverage to 95% of UK premises by the end of 2017. Three years later, not only has your Government failed to deliver this roll-out, it has failed to start procurement for it.
As MPs in Westminster, broadband is one of the issues raised most consistently by our constituents, especially for those of us representing rural seats. So we would be grateful if you could provide us with answers to these straightforward questions:
First, why have some English local authorities not only contracted the second phase. but have moved onto the third, before the Scottish Government have even got started procuring Phase 2
Second, do you accept that Scotland is behind every single English local authority, the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland in its approach to Phase 2
Third, can you confirm that every local authority region in Scotland will see new broadband delivery in both 2018 and 2019? We look forward to a Swift response.
You have spoken of the Scottish Governments ambition on broadband. This is to be welcomed and targets such as R100 are laudable. But the time of promises is over – we need to see delivery so that the people of Scotland get the broadband they need. We are copying this letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister for Digital, and your Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity.
Letter signed by Tory MP’s: Alistair Jack, Andrew Bowie, Colin Clark, Stephen Kerr, John Lamont, David Duguid, Paul Masterton, Bill Grant, Kirstene Hair and Ross Thomson.
The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary responsible for digital connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, responded to their comments and set the record straight: Superfast broadband availability in Scotland has increased at a faster rate than other UK nations. He wrote.
Dear Members of Parliament:
There has been a great deal of misinformation from the UK Government on broadband delivery in Scotland in recent weeks. I am delighted, therefore, to take this opportunity to set the record straight, by answering the three questions outlined in your letter.
1. Why have some English local authorities not only contracted the second phase but have moved onto the third, before the Scottish Government have even got started procuring Phase 2?
The short answer is we didn’t choose to do DSSB in phases. English local authority projects were of a far smaller scale than our Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme and required additional phases.
Rather than taking forward 32 individual local authority-led procurements, we took the joint decision with local government partners, and the UK Government, that we would aggregate public investment across two regional projects in Scotland. This created a scale that has dwarfed any other project in the UK, extending broadband access to over 800,000 premises across Scotland so far, with further deployment to follow throughout 2018.
The success of this approach, and the resultant scale of our ‘Phase 1’ project, removed the need to progress a Scottish ‘Phase 2’ project in a similar timescale to other parts of the UK. In effect, the DSSB programme is Phases 1, 2 and 3 rolled into one.
The idea that Scotland is behind the rest of the UK simply because we haven’t yet launched a second procurement is laughable. The DSSB programme was constructed to avoid the need for successive small-scale procurements.
The success of this approach is demonstrated by the coverage figures. The most recent Ofcom data shows that Scotland has made the fastest progress of any of the UK nations in extending superfast access.
Now that the coverage footprint of DSSB is known, it makes sense to launch a new procurement, which we will do in the coming weeks. Crucially, we are doing this to deliver our commitment to 100% superfast broadband access by 2021 – a commitment that does not exist anywhere else in the UK.
2. Do you accept that Scotland is behind every single English local authority, the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland in its approach to Phase 2?
I completely reject this claim. As outlined above, the DSSB programme has delivered more than any other Phase 1 project anywhere in the UK. It will continue deployment throughout 2018, at which point the new Reaching 100% (R100) programme will kick in.
Prior to our intervention, broadband coverage in Scotland had lagged behind the rest of the UK for a variety of reasons, including the challenging nature of our geography, low population density and the regulatory environment. The scale of investment delivered through DSSB, and the speed at which it has deployed, has seen Scotland close the gap on catch the rest of the UK in coverage terms.
As noted above, the latest Ofcom figures demonstrate this: superfast broadband coverage in Scotland increased by 14% over the previous 12 months – the largest increase of any of the UK nations; and that percentage coverage in Scotland is now higher than in many English local authorities.
We are now ready to launch the R100 programme; but it is important to understand that the R100 programme is not equivalent to the Phase 2 projects progressed elsewhere in the UK. It will deliver superfast access to every premise in Scotland. No other part of the UK has made such a commitment.
The UK Government appears happy to stop at 95% superfast coverage across the UK and consign those in the most rural areas to the slow-lane in terms of speeds, either through a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation or by seeking a hastily constructed deal with BT to deliver something similar.
I wholeheartedly agree with John Lamont, who argued in the recent Westminster Hall debate on broadband, that the UK Government should have set the broadband USO at a higher speed than 10Mbps.
The Scottish Government does not believe that 10Mbps is acceptable for rural Scotland; which is why we will invest to ensure that 30Mbps is available to every home and business.
It is deeply unfortunate that the UK Government, which has the power to set a superfast USO or to invest directly in high-speed infrastructure across all of the UK, have chosen to do neither.
I would hope that the leadership shown by the Scottish Government would be welcomed by all Scottish MPs and, indeed, that you will urge the UK Government to match the ambition that we are showing in what is, of course, a reserved area.
3. Can you confirm that every local authority region in Scotland will see new broadband delivery in both 2018 and 2019?
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme will continue to deliver throughout 2018, utilising Gainshare and other residual funds within both contracts, and this will extend into every local authority area.
We will formally launch the R100 procurement process in the coming weeks. This procurement will take place in parallel with continuing DSSB delivery through Gainshare, and we expect that R100 deployment will be underway across all of Scotland in 2019.
The truth is that the Scottish Government, and our local authority partners, have developed an enviable delivery track record on broadband in recent years. The DSSB programme has delivered broadband access at a scale unmatched anywhere else in the UK.
800,000 premises and counting now have broadband available as a result of our investment. Audit Scotland has recognised the success of the programme and Ofcom figures demonstrate that the coverage gap has been closed.
It is hugely unfortunate that a new intake of Scottish MPs appear intent on overlooking the facts, and underplaying what has been a success story for Scotland. This should be an opportunity for us to celebrate the success of the DSSB programme – a joint investment between our two Governments – and to collectively turn our attention to finishing the job through the R100 programme.
Instead, the UK Government has committed just £20.99 million to the programme – less than the amount allocated to Devon and Somerset for a less ambitious programme, and substantially less than the Scottish Government’s planned investment. Persuading UK Ministers to address this disparity in funding would seem to me to be a far more fruitful use of your time at Westminster than parroting baseless and false claims about broadband delivery in Scotland. I trust this response sets the record straight. (Fergus Ewing)
21 Dec 2017: Full Fibre & 5G Broadband – Questions Answered in the Commons
The Minister for Digital (Matt Hancock): The Westminster Government will control the implementation of the new full fibre and the 5G programme directly through local representatives and authorities to ensure efficient delivery.
Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP): Scottish Tory Back Bencher’s are agreed that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is flawed and amounts to a power grab. Is the Westminster Government’s ill-judged proposals for broadband not the same, and is it not time that the Minister worked with the Scottish Government instead of trying to bypass them?
Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con): My constituency of North Northumberland is on the southern side of the border, (just a line on a map as far as my constituents are concerned). The entire community (despite implementation of broadband being devolved to local authorities) is still struggling to get the broadband it needs and many of my small villages are cut off. Will the Minister commit that, in 2018, we will see progress in the rural communities in England?
Matt Hancock: The Westminster Government controls all aspects of telecommunications in the UK and is increasingly mindful of the need to ensure delivery of acceptable levels of broadband to the rural communities of Northern England and in the Borders of Scotland.
Brendan O’Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): In this the season of good will, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Scottish Government following last week’s announcement that, despite it being a reserved matter, they are to invest £600 million in rolling out 30 megabit superfast broadband across Scotland, with priority given to rural Scotland, thereby making Scotland a truly world-class digital nation by 2021?
Matt Hancock: I will certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wishing a merry Christmas to everybody in the Scottish National Party and the SNP Government in Scotland. (Hansard)
Matt Hancock MP, UK Minister for Digital evidently needs to justify the Westminster Government’s ill judged decision to deny the Scottish Government any input to the development of 5G networking. On 23 Oct 2017 he was quoted saying:
“I’m delighted that more than 800,000 Scottish homes and businesses have now had their internet speeds boosted as part of our UK wide rollout of superfast broadband. By the end of this year 95 per cent of UK properties will have access to superfast speeds, but more needs to be done to make sure no-one is left behind. We know just how important broadband is in the digital age, and we’ll continue to support Digital Scotland delivering on the ground so that by 2020 everyone in Scotland will have access to a fast, reliable and affordable internet connection.” (ispreview)
The contribution of Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con) was significant since it revealed the duplicity of the Westminster Government’s claims to be more efficient at rolling out broadband to rural communities than the Scottish Government
23 Sep 2015: Clark Integrated Computers – Turrif and Fyvie
Austen and Graham Clark are brother’s of the recently elected MP for the Gordon constituency Colin.
Whilst wealthy Colin remained in farming and other business, including politics, in his spare time, his brothers established their own computer support company based in the former Towie Tavern between Turrif and Fyvie.
A very real success story the award winning firm delivers a wide range of information and communications technology products and services to clients throughout Scotland and beyond through strategic partnerships with vendors such as Cisco, Microsoft, HP, Dell and Apple.
Asked why the brothers built an IT company in the middle of the Aberdeenshire countryside the response from Austen was:
“A rural location was not without its challenges but a 100 megabit per second fibre optical cable running past the front door, easier access to routes north and the very nature of the business meant that Towie Tavern was as good as any other location. It is also easier to get to for most of our staff who must be glad they don’t have to commute to and from traffic congested Aberdeen every day.”
The company aims to double the size of its business over the next 3 to 5 years as technological advances continue to be developed at a rapid pace.
The full article can be found here: http://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-press-and-journal-aberdeen/20150923/282351153575701
Comment: Well, well. Over 2 years ago Colin Clark’s brothers were so enamoured with the 100 megabit per second high speed connection available, out in the sticks in Turrif and Fyvie that they started their computer business in that rural part of the Gordon constituency. But brother Colin is so besotted with Tory Party dogma and following the party line that he sees fit to stand up in Westminster and blaming the Scottish Government for failing to roll-out broadband in Scotland’s rural communities well realising that he is talking absolute twaddle.