How can Scotland accelerate the roll out of rural broadband?

The Scottish Government has a laudable goal of achieving 100% rollout of broadband across Scotland, the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband initiative funded to the whopping tune of £600m.

It is a central feature of their digital economy strategy, correctly identifying that high speed Internet access is the essential enabling foundation for any community wishing to participate in the modern digital economy.

R100 delayed

However achieving that goal is facing significant challenges. As the Herald reports the program has been delayed.

This will come as disappointing news to many rural communities, many experience broadband “Not Spots”, weak or even non-existent coverage.

It’s been an ongoing challenge for the Scottish Government. David Duguid criticized them for not keeping up with their own roll out schedule, and as the BBC reported in September, Audit Scotland has said it’s unclear how Scotland will achieve their goal of 100% availability of 30Mbps broadband, and that additional funding on top of the £600m to date may be required.

about a quarter of rural areas cannot receive 10 Mbs, the auditors said.

Audit Scotland reports that just 13 of the 63 initiatives were successful with a lack of specialist skills, poor communication and complex tendering requirements causing lengthy delays and failed procurements. Scottish Borders published a report describing that the roll-out “possibly” delivered value for money, but there were “major problems with the quality of the coverage.”

Broadband Action Plan

So what can we, as Scotland’s tech community, do to help work around these obstacles and accelerate roll out?

One key way to address the situation is for communities to self-organize their own capacity upgrades. There are various commercial supplier scenarios and some communities have even dug and laid their own fibre connectivity, ‘DIY Broadband’, such as Balquidder Community Broadband.

The European Network for Rural Development offers two example case studies of how communities have addressed their own local broadband needs:

  • In Lapland the Kuitua pohjoiseen project was established to help villagers to set up cooperatives and apply for public grants to build their own high-speed broadband networks. The project also acted as an intermediary, helping the cooperatives to learn from each other and to negotiate the necessary network arrangements with service operators.
  • Broadband Network Development in Rural ‘White Areas’ of Greece is a national intervention to close the digital divide in remote and sparsely populated rural ‘white areas’.

The nature of the challenge for Scotland is epitomized through the fact that there was a program of grants to support this type of local co-operative broadband, however when you explore the process to do so, it concludes with “At the moment, we are not actively supporting any new community-led projects.”

A 5G Future?

New technologies offer exciting potential. 5G RuralFirst is a co-innovation project led by Cisco alongside principal partner University of Strathclyde to explore the potential of this next generation of networking for rural communities.

However again the challenge is translating the theory into reality; as Sarah Skerratt comments, it’s an exciting future vision IF they actually receive the capability.

New innovations

Our Broadband Action Plan will identify a variety of options that communities can consider to self-address their own needs, such as new technologies like airband TV white space delivery.

Featured Vendor: Whitespace Technology

Whitespace offers broadband solutions for communities experiencing ‘Wifi Notspots’.

Whitespace is perfectly suited to the use cases where traditional fixed line services either aren’t available or just don’t work for the end users.


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