Full fibre connectivity by 2025 would provide £4.55bn boost to Scotland’s economy

Connecting everyone in Scotland to full fibre broadband by 2025 would provide a £4.55bn boost to the country’s economy, new research has found.

Gigabit connectivity to every home would help unlock ‘smarter ways of working, better public services and greater opportunities for the next generation of home-grown businesses,’ research conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), on behalf of Openreach, has found.

The “Full fibre broadband: A platform for growth” report, which looks at the economic impacts of full fibre, revealed that 37,400 people could be bought back into Scotland’s workforce through enhanced connectivity. This could include roles within small businesses and entrepreneurs – as well as allowing thousands more people – like older workers, carers and working parents – to work remotely.

Full fibre, Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology not only brings faster broadband speeds – download speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second (1Gbps) are available – but it’s also more reliable and will meet people’s needs for decades. It’s capable of download speeds around 18 times faster than the current UK average[1].

The Cebr research also highlights the positive impact full fibre broadband would have on rural towns and villages where people have traditionally moved away in search of work. Being able to work from home or set up a home-based business would make these areas appealing once again to workers, boosting the local economy while reducing transport and housing pressures in big cities.

Brendan Dick, chair of the Openreach board in Scotland, said: “This report looks at the significant economic benefit and jobs boost that having access to full fibre would create. Openreach – as the UK’s largest telephone and broadband network – is leading the way when it comes to full fibre. We’re already building in places like Edinburgh, Greater Glasgow, Kilmarnock and West Lothian and we’re looking forward to going even further in the future.

“Full fibre builds on our existing investment across Scotland. Superfast broadband already reaches 94 per cent of homes and businesses2 and Openreach’s work is a combination of our own investment; partnerships with the public sector; and working directly with local communities to make faster speeds available.”

Building a nationwide full fibre network is the second-largest infrastructure project in the UK, requiring a physical build to more than 30 million front doors. The National Infrastructure Commission has estimated the cost at £33.4 billion by 2033, with the majority of this coming from private investment.

However, red tape and what Openreach describes as ‘punitive business rates’ on fibre infrastructure currently undermine the investment case and are slowing down the roll-out, meaning that the private sector could struggle to reach ambitious targets set by the UK Government.

Clive Selley, Openreach CEO, said: “Full fibre is a vehicle to turbocharge our economy post-Brexit, with the power to renew towns and communities across the UK. We’re proud to be leading the way with over 1.8 million homes and businesses already having access to our full fibre network.

“We’re currently passing around 22,000 premises a week with fibre – which is one every 28 seconds. Our nationwide ambition is to go even faster and further than ever before – and build to 15 million premises by the mid-2020s and ultimately the majority of the UK. 

“Through the Openreach Fibre First programme, we are now building to 103 locations across the UK and we’re on track to reach four million premises by March 2021. With the right policies and regulation, we can build an even better, more reliable broadband network faster than any other country in the world and unlock the benefits for the whole UK.

“If that doesn’t happen, then many people will be locked out of a more connected future and the UK could lose its status as a global digital leader.”

In response to the report, Openreach has published proposals that will enable the UK Government and the industry to massively accelerate the roll-out. These include:

  • An exemption from business rates in order to stimulate more investment3
  • Government action to lower deployment costs and reduce barriers to deployment
  • The regulator setting the right conditions to unlock the commercial case for companies to build across most of the UK.

Mike Spicer, Director of Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Businesses across the UK tell us there is so much more they could do if residential internet connections were improved – from supporting flexible and agile working to providing new services to consumers. We strongly support initiatives to speed up the rollout of full fibre to premises to position Britain in the premier league of digital-ready countries.” 

Many of the premises Openreach has already built to are hard-to-reach rural areas, with over 100,000 across the UK – around 6000 in Scotland includingClasslochie in Kinross and Glenmazeran in the Highlands – now part of Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) scheme.

More than 3,200 Openreach people live and work in Scotland and earlier this year it was announced that 220 engineers are being recruited across the country. The company has also invested more than £500,000 in its Scottish fibre training schools this year.

[1] Based on Ofcom data for average UK broadband speed.
2 According to the independent thinkbroadband.com, which takes into account all providers.
3 The Scottish Government has already extended rates relief from five to 10 years as an incentive to fibre network builders