Gavin Patterson: Bringing faster broadband to Scotland

BT chief executive Gavin Patterson
BT chief executive Gavin Patterson
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Superfast fibre broadband has emerged as one of the hottest topics of recent years for communities across Scotland – increasingly, it is a “must have” technology.

Local households and businesses are using it for everything from selling products to filling in government forms, helping with education, adding to entertainment or simply staying in touch.

A great deal has already been achieved thanks to the £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband partnership between the Scottish and UK governments, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, local authorities, BT and others.

More than 1.8 million Scottish premises can now access fibre broadband as a result of the partnership and BT’s own commercial rollout of this exciting technology. By the end of March 2018, Scottish coverage is expected to have reached around 95 per cent.

But what about the people not yet included in any existing rollout plan or not already engaged with Community Broadband Scotland?

Part of BT’s mission has to be to listen to those worried they’re not in any current upgrade programme – and do what we can to help.

We’ve just announced our commitment to work with communities to find a fibre solution and have set up a community fibre partnership scheme to enable this. Our strong ambition is to never to say “no” and rather to work together until we have agreed a suitable and affordable option.

Indeed, we’ve already worked with 90 UK communities where local people have got together and pooled resources.

If any Scottish community contacts us we’ll do whatever we can to help, including co-funding if we can.

This initiative will complement the main fibre deployment and the Community Broadband Scotland programme already operating across Scotland, with everyone pulling together to deliver a truly digital Scotland.

Householders and businesses can check the latest situation for their area by going to the Digital Scotland and Openreach superfast broadband websites.

One of the advantages of any broadband infrastructure put in by Openreach is that rivals to BT can rent capacity in order to supply phone and broadband services under their own brand names. They get charged the same as Openreach charges BT’s own Consumer and Business divisions. This results in choice for consumers and competition among BT and its rivals to try to win their custom.

This system of open competition over a common network has served Scotland and the UK well for broadband.

UK fibre broadband coverage is currently at 90 per cent, on course for 95 per cent by the end of 2017. Independent studies already place the UK top of the European Union’s five largest countries for broadband.

Our job now is to make sure that Scotland and the UK remain at the forefront of this exciting technological revolution by doing whatever’s possible to help the remaining 5 per cent of households and businesses still awaiting good news.

We plan to go further still, using innovation in a variety of technologies, such as wireless, satellite and ultrafast, arising from our £500m a year research and development programme – and by working with local communities wherever we can.

Together with government, local authorities and local communities, we can achieve a level of coverage which would have been considered almost impossible just a few years ago.

Gavin Patterson is chief executive of BT