Warning over Highlands ‘superfast’ broadband plans

The minimum 'superfast' broadband in parts of the Highlands could be slower than the desired speed. Picture: Getty

The minimum 'superfast' broadband in parts of the Highlands could be slower than the desired speed. Picture: Getty

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THE minimum “superfast” broadband speed throughout much of the Highlands could be about a third of the desired download speed, the public spending watchdog has warned.

There is no agreed definition of what speed is “superfast” but the Scottish Government aims to ultimately provide speeds of 40-80 megabytes per second (Mb/s), according to Audit Scotland.

However, more than three-quarters of premises can expect maximum speeds of more than 24Mb/s while the rest “may need technological advances or further investment before they can access superfast broadband speeds”, it said.

The European Commission aims for speeds in excess of 30Mb/s by 2020, with 50 per cent of European households subscribing to ultrafast speeds of more than 100Mb/s.

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Other countries are more ambitious, with Germany aiming for speeds of 50Mb/s to all households by 2018 while Sweden aims for 100Mb/s to 40 per cent of premises by 2015, and 90 per cent by 2020.

The Scottish Government and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have appointed BT, through two contracts, to develop a superfast broadband network with capacity to deliver speeds of 40-80Mb/s.

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “This investment by the public sector is intended to mainly benefit rural areas, where such access is currently either low or non-existent.

“Given the potential benefits, it’s important that the Scottish Government and HIE provide clear and regular updates on what coverage and speeds the broadband network will actually deliver, as the installation progresses.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This is a very positive report that confirms we are on course to deliver our target of 85 per cent of premises in Scotland having access to superfast broadband by March 2016 and 95 per cent by the end of 2017.

“Our ambition is for Scotland to be a world-leading digital nation by 2020 - a vision underpinned by future-proofed infrastructure that will support connectivity on any device, anywhere, at any time.

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“Our Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme is a vital first step - extending fibre infrastructure into areas where the market would not otherwise go - and Audit Scotland’s report makes clear it is being managed effectively and that roll-out is currently ahead of contractual targets.”

Public Audit Committee convener Paul Martin said the committee will now “explore whether the progress being made has delivered better coverage and faster speeds to rural Scotland, or if targets have been met by focusing on the easier-to-achieve parts of this ambitious infrastructure programme”.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “You shouldn’t have to go to the city to get a decent internet connection.

“We would accelerate the plans set out by the Scottish Government and ensure that when someone does get this connection, it’s fast enough to make a noticeable difference to their lives.”

Councillor Stephen Hagan, spokesman for development, economy and sustainability at council umbrella group Cosla, said: “Whilst the report outlines some continuing challenges for broadband in Scotland, as with any significant infrastructure project we must be careful not to focus in so much on the details outstanding that we miss the bigger picture of a step-change in broadband speed for local communities the length and breadth of Scotland.”

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