Next generation broadband is ‘vital’

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COSTS for providing next generation superfast broadband in the south of Scotland are estimated at £120 million and the aim is to have it available for 100 per cent of the population in the region by 2020.

Next generation broadband services are already available to 50 per cent of the UK population, that figure should rise to 66 per cent by 2015 and 100 per cent by 2020.

However, in a report to Scottish Borders councillors this week Duncan Nisbet who is bid project manager for the region’s share of the £530 million funding being made available by the UK Government, said that without public sector intervention no area in the south of Scotland (other than Innerleithen who successfully applied for Race to Infinity funding) will see progress in the immediate future.

Scottish Borders Council are partners in the South of Scotland Alliance (SoSA) who identified broadband as “a vital strategic requirement for the region” back in 2007.

“The project is the single largest infrastructure project for the south of Scotland and its importance to the future of the region should not be underestimated,” said Mr Nisbet.

“Next generation broadband requires that infrastructure be replaced, but will ultimately lead to connection speeds between 500 and 2000 times that experienced in 1999 when first generationa broadband services began rolling out to the UK.

“SoSA believes that this project is needed to keep pace with the rest of Europe in terms of keeping our existing businesses competitive and promoting growth, attracting new business into the region, reducing the migration of our young residents to urban areas and providing the mechanism for redesigning the way we deliver public services in the future.”

Scotland’s share of the £530 million Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) fundbeing made available for the project UK wide is £68 million and the Scottish Government has promised an additional £50 million.

In drawing up plans for next generation broadband in the south of Scotland the project team are also looking at bids to European funds, investment by the private sectors (Telecom Company). However, there will still need to be considerable capital investment by both councils - estimated at £21 million - between 2013 and 2015/16, and neither have made provision for this in their current capital programmes.

There is also a risk that the SoSA allocation from the BDUK will fall short of expectations, and that European funding may not materialise or will be less than estimated.

The level of BDUK funding should be known by the end of October this year and the European funding level by November.

When SBC meets today, (Thursday) councillors are being asked to approve continuation of the project and the funding model drawn up by the project team so that they can proceed to the next stage of submitting their completed Local Broadband Plan to the Scottish Government.

Commenting on Scotland’s £68 million share of the UK Government’s £530 million superfast broadband funding SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Paul Wheelhouse said: “The Scottish Government has a target of Next Generation Broadband services for all by 2020, with significant progress by 2015. Any help we have towards equipping rural Scotland with superfast broadband is welcome, but in my opinion it is clear that the UK Government’s announcement does not go nearly far enough.

“Rolling out access to superfast broadband across Scotland is going to be an expensive business, as Scotland has a particularly challenging geography, and a significant part of those costs comes from overcoming the infrastructure issues that remote rural communities present to service providers.

“According to estimates given to me by the South of Scotland Alliance, an indicative estimate of the total cost of providing broadband in the South of Scotland is around £120 million, while that for the Highlands and Islands is £300 million, which suggests to me that this current pot of just £68 million allocated to Scotland won’t stretch very far.

“The Scottish Government has already promised £50 million of its own budget to help fund broadband projects across rural Scotland, which it has generated through more efficient procurement of capital projects, but it would be fair to say that I had hoped for far more from Westminster.

“Michael Moore’s comments last week that the Scottish Government should “Cheer up for goodness’ sake”, shows just how out of touch he is with the true scale of investment required and the real risks posed to businesses dependent upon this communication technology.

“However, disappointed I am with the announcement, the South of Scotland Broadband project is making excellent progress, and my immediate priority is to support the South of Scotland Alliance in making a successful bid for the limited funding we do have.

“As I stated in the recent debate in Parliament on Rural Connectivity, it is essential that the South of Scotland bid succeeds for the sake of the local economy, our public services and to enhance its attraction for inward investment to create jobs. This is a vital step to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of our diverse economy”.