Superfast broadband bid faces challenges

Fouldens community is working with Community Broadband Scotland.
Fouldens community is working with Community Broadband Scotland.

A programme to deliver superfast broadband to 94% of Scottish households has added a further 19,500 Borders premises, as of March 2016.

However, it is also becoming apparent that this fibre-optic solution is not the answer for everyone, and both Scottish Borders Council, which has contributed £8.4m towards the project, and the Scottish Government are now looking at how to resolve the difficulties in some of the region’s more rural areas.

A report to councillors this week highlighted some of the difficulties.

In it Bryan McGrath, chief officer for economic development, and Douglas Scott, a senior policy adviser, say: “As the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme progresses, it is becoming clear that there are a number of issues with how effectively it delivers in widely dispersed rural areas like the Borders.

“The programme is using a fibre-optic solution to increase the broadband speeds that are available.

“Most premises are connected to this upgraded fibre network through their existing copper telephone lines.

“Where the premises are reasonably close to the newly installed superfast broadband cabinet, then users should see good broadband speeds when they sign up for a new fibre broadband service. However, once homes and businesses are more than 1.2km from the superfast cabinet, they will experience a much-reduced service, with those premises furthest away seeing no benefit at all.

“This long-lines issue may also have an impact close to, and within, towns and villages, as the 1.2km threshold is as measured by the existing cable routing, rather than a straight line to the cabinet.

“The council and South of Scotland Alliance are currently in discussion with Scottish Government officials to better understand the impact of this fact on how many premises in the Scottish Borders will actually receive a better broadband service.”

Community Broadband Scotland is working with a number of community groups, including those in the Lammermuirs area and Foulden, to develop projects for providing broadband solutions in the areas outwith the superfast broadband roll-out programme.

One of the possible solutions is superfast satellite broadband, and parts of the Scottish Borders are eligible for a pilot project being run by Avanti.

“So far, approximately 30 premises have taken advantage of the pilot, which has now been extended until the end of July 2016 or whenever the funding runs out,” said the council report.

However, it’s acknowledged that satellite broadband is not an ideal solution because of limitations in the capacity of superfast broadband that can be provided.