Scotland’s R100 Boss Talks Future Broadband Plans

The Programme Director for R100 (Reaching 100%) programme, Clive Downing speaks to ISPreview.co.uk

This is an excellent article which explains the current status of the R100 programme supported explanatory links. You can read the full interview on their website.

The Programme Director for the Scottish Government’s £600m R100 (Reaching 100%) programme, Clive Downing, has kindly provided ISPreview.co.uk with insight into their approach toward the planned extension of “superfast broadband” into some of the hardest to reach premises across Scotland.

At the end of 2019 nearly 94% of Scotland were able to order a fixed “superfast broadband” network (30Mbps+) and gigabit-capable “full fibre” (FTTP) services reached almost 8% of premises (here). Much of the improvement seen in superfast connectivity over the past few years has stemmed from the previous public and privately funded £442m Digital Scotland (DSSB) project with BT (Openreach).

By contrast the R100 project was first established as a follow-on programme to DSSB in 2017 (here), which originally aspired to extend superfast broadband connectivity to 100% of Scotland by the end of 2021 (March 2022 as a financial year). Naturally this focused on the final 5-6% of premises, which mostly reflected those in harder to reach rural areas where commercial investment alone cannot reach.

Sadly, R100 suffered a number of delays during its procurement phase and the first of three contracts – for Central (LOT 2) and Southern (LOT 3) Scotland – were only awarded to BT (Openreach) last autumn (here). The project then suffered another blow after UK full fibre ISP Gigaclear lodged an unspecified legal challenge against the planned award of LOT 1 (North Scotland) to BT (here), which remains on-going.

On top of that an initial roll-out plan for LOT 2 and 3 has revealed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the project will not achieve its original completion target of 2021 and is instead likely to continue building until the end of 2023 (here). But on the positive side, most of what is now built will be 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) technology and so the longer wait should be worth it.

One other thing that Scotland has got right is to give new fibre optic lines a 10 year holiday (relief) from business rates (here), which is significantly better than the 5 year relief given by the UK Government. Crucially this is much closer to the long-term investment models that most full fibre operators need to follow (payback assumptions can be up to 15-20 years).

The man appointed to oversee the R100 programme is Clive Downing, who is also a Director of Independent Intelligence Limited. Downing has been designing public sector broadband initiatives since before Building Digital UK was created and has worked with the Scottish Government supporting Digital activity since 2012.

NOTE: Clive’s interview answers are his personal views and may not necessarily be those of the Scottish Government.

Clive’s background is in engineering and he’s also been involved with NYnet, the EU B3 programme, Bristol is open and IXScotland. “So, am I fibre purist? No, not as the only solution for good, usable broadband. However I firmly believe fibre is the future because investment is predicated on the low [operational expenditure] it enjoys, particularly for GPON,” said Clive to ISPreview.co.uk while discussing the future of R100.

According to Clive, there are now about 2.9 million premises in Scotland and about 250,000 of those cannot currently receive a superfast service. “Of these, there are about 100,000 that have commercial plans from a range of operators, large and small. This leaves 150,000 for the main intervention,” added Clive. R100 is expected to fill most of this and then Clive envisages the UK’s future £5bn scheme (here) as helping to do the rest.

We should point out that broadband is technically still the responsibility of Westminster (UK Government), although it’s not unusual for local and devolved authorities to contribute their own public funding to help major investment schemes to achieve a better result (this is true for most BDUK schemes across the UK too).

Otherwise you can read our full interview here, which touches on various issues from the Gigaclear case to overbuild and engineer shortages.