Ministers are being urged to shake-up their broadband policy and adopt alternatives to fibre-optic cabling as Scotland continues to languish in the internet slow lane.
While access to high-speed broadband has improved significantly over the past few years, industry insiders fear that a goal of ensuring these services are available to every home and business by 2020 could be missed.
A report by industry regulator Ofcom, published in December, revealed that internet access speeds of 30 megabits per second or higher were now available to 83 per cent of Scottish premises, up from 73 per cent a year earlier, though take-up remains low.
Many consumers north of the Border remain unable to access broadband with “acceptable speeds”, Ofcom noted. Around 7 per cent of Scottish properties cannot get a download speed of ten megabits per second or more – equating to 190,000 premises.
Many of the properties without superfast broadband are in rural and remote areas, beyond the reach of the fibre-optic cable network.
It is estimated that about half of these are located in “drive-to-work” areas, outside of the main population conurbations, but they may still be reached using ground cable connections and microwave radio links. Beyond that, options are limited and satellite connections, once considered too expensive and unreliable to provide high-speed broadband, are seen by planners as a cost effective solution.
John Fitzgerald, managing director of Prestwick-based Internet Anywhere, which provides satellite-based broadband services, said the technology had the capability to plug the digital divide.
“The Scottish Government looked at satellite broadband about ten years ago, when it was a much less efficient communications methodology, but since then there has been a generational shift in the technology.
“We cannot continue to rely on a single source of connection if we’re to achieve a target of 100 per cent superfast broadband cover.
“Ministers and infrastructure planners need to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later and accept that Scotland doesn’t have the geography or demography to rely solely on fibre-optic cable or even mobile, which is often ineffective in remote areas as a voice solution, never mind a data solution.”
Ofcom has opened premises in Edinburgh as part of a strategy to move part of its operations outside London and the watchdog is working with the government to overcome some of the hurdles that stand in the way of it meeting its 2020 target.