… but rural areas suffer from slower speeds and pose a stiff challenge, according to Audit Scotland report
Scotland’s effort to widen the access to high speed broadband is making good progress, but running into difficulties in rural areas and there is a need to spend the remaining money carefully, according to the country’s official auditor.
Audit Scotland has published a report on the programme, providing a generally positive verdict and saying the Scottish Government can expect to meet its target of 95% coverage for high speed connections by December 2017.
But it makes the point that work has so far focused on easier to reach areas and the remainder will be more challenging and costly.
The roll out is aimed at providing broadband speeds of 24Mbps where possible, but with the understanding that the geography of much of Scotland and technical reasons will prevent it from being obtainable everywhere.
Regional development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading the work and a £412 million contract was awarded to BT in 2013, with £42 million still in the kitty for further work.
The report says that 2.2 million out of 2.6 million premises in Scotland had access to fibre broadband by March, 1% more than the original target, and the ambition for 100% coverage 2020 is still achievable. But six of the 32 local authority areas are still short of the target, and their geography will demand more complicated and costly engineering solutions.
In addition, premises in rural areas are receiving lower than average speeds, often below 10Mbps.
EU funding factor
Plans for investing the extra £42 million are being hindered by the EU aid for broadband projects having run out – although the UK Government received new approval in June of this year – and BT’s modelling of costs and take-up is taking longer than expected.
The Scottish Government is also considering how the Community Broadband Scotland programme, which it set up in 2012, can contribute to the final effort.
Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “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.”
Image: Route market on Whiteside Hill, Eileen Henderson,CC 2.0 through Wikimedia