Scotland’s State Aid Broadband Projects Benefit 1 Million Premises

The Scottish Government (SG) has announced that both of its past and present broadband roll-out programmes, accounting for a total public investment of £1bn, have now helped more than 1 million extra premises (homes and businesses) in poorly served areas to gain access to a faster broadband ISP network.

The two programmes concerned include the SG’s £463m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project, which – running between 2014 and 2020 – expanded fibre-based broadband (mostly FTTC / VDSL2 and some FTTP from Openreach) to cover an additional 950,600 premises (over 150,000 more than originally anticipated). The focus of such schemes is typically on areas where commercial builds either wouldn’t reach or, without intervention, might have been left to wait years longer for a faster service.

Funding partners in R100: Scottish Government (£590m+), BT (£53m) and BDUK / UK Gov (£52m+). Funding partners in DSSB: Scottish Government (£62m+), BDUK / UK Gov (£100m+), Scottish Local Authorities (£90m+), BT (£126m+), ERDF (£12m) and HIE (£11m).

On top of that, we also have the more recent £600m Reaching 100% (R100) project – with Openreach, which largely involves extending gigabit-capable “full fibre” (FTTP) networks to another 114,000 premises in areas that lack access to “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) speeds by 2027/28 – so far, it’s already covered 48,000 premises. But take note that their 48k figure includes the impact from both vouchers (3,800) and contracted build, as well as overspill (explainer).

The combination of both public and privately funded deployments means that, according to the latest Thinkbroadband data, some 96.14% of premises in Scotland can today access a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) connection, while 76.06% already have access to gigabit-capable broadband (1000Mbps+) – dropping to 58.78% when only looking at FTTP lines.

Ofcom currently predicts (here) that Scotland’s full fibre coverage will reach around 78-83% by May 2026, while gigabit-capable broadband (FTTP and Hybrid Fibre Coax / cable) should deliver 83-85% by that same date.

Mairi McAllan, Wellbeing Economy Secretary, said:

“Fast and reliable broadband has never been so important: it is an increasingly vital tool for everything from work and leisure, healthcare and education. This is precisely why the Scottish Government has prioritised investment in digital connectivity in the 2024-25 Budget. Indeed, despite telecoms being reserved, we have now committed to investing more than £650 million across the DSSB and R100 programmes, recognising that faster broadband is a key building block for a green and growing economy.

Enabling more than one million connections to faster broadband is a landmark achievement in delivering this vision, and we are fully committed to ensuring as many people as possible can benefit from the advantages of future-proofed digital infrastructure to run businesses and services across the country.”

Fraser Rowberry, Chief Engineer for Openreach Scotland, said:

“Scotland’s digital journey is a story of resilience and progress. From adapting to remote work and learning during the pandemic to expanding ultrafast internet access, we’ve come a long way. Today’s milestone marks a massive engineering success, connecting people and businesses from Shetland to Stranraer, and we’re proud of the part we’ve played through our work with the Scottish Government.

Change on this scale, reaching even the most rural areas, is a testament to teamwork and determination. Let’s celebrate our achievements as we keep reaching for better connectivity across Scotland.”

However, in terms of gigabit broadband coverage, it’s clear that a gap will still be left for Scotland to fill once R100 completes and most of that will be in rural areas – only around 30% of rural Scotland can currently access gigabit speeds, although this is due to shrink further over the next few years.

The UK Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme is aware of this and has already allocated £450m (here) to help this project spread 1Gbps speeds into some of the most remote rural areas. The associated Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency has previously estimated that some 410,000 premises across Scotland may need support from public funding to help them gain access to such speeds (here).

The Scottish Government is currently expected to launch their first Project Gigabit procurement, for the Borders and East Lothian areas, this month, and that is aiming to reach over 11,000 premises. Further procurements are expected to launch in phases throughout the rest of 2024 including in Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Perth and Kinross, Aberdeen, Dundee and Moray Coast, and Orkney and Shetland, subject to market interest being confirmed.

Finally, projects for Central and North Scotland will be included within a future call-off procurement under the project’s cross-regional (type C) framework contract that is currently in procurement, which will be delivered by BDUK rather than the SG. Cross-regional contracts are arguably more tailored toward bigger operators (e.g. Openreach, Virgin Madia/Nexfibre, CityFibre etc.), largely because smaller players may have found the areas too challenging (i.e. little market interest was shown).

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