Scottish Government needs to state broadband progress

The public needs to be given clearer information on the coverage and range of speeds that development of a superfast broadband network for Scotland will deliver, according to a report.

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 40-80 Megabits per second (Mb/s).

The Scottish Government’s interim target is for 85-90 per cent of premises in Scotland to have access to the network by March 2016, and to extend this to over 95 per cent by the end of 2017.

The report by Audit Scotland points out that the contracts don’t guarantee speeds of 40-80 Mb/s for all premises, and the Scottish Government and HIE have not stated clearly what speeds will ultimately be delivered.

Just over three quarters of the premises in the areas covered can expect to receive access to maximum speeds of more than 24 Mb/s. The remaining 23 per cent may need technological advances or further investment before they can access superfast broadband speeds. Exact details of what speeds will be delivered are dependent on completion of survey work by BT.

Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Being able to access superfast broadband is increasingly important for homes and businesses. 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.”

BT has exceeded its contractual targets by 57,000 premises, although it is around 14,000 premises short of where it expected to be at this stage against its original plans. Based on the progress made to December 2014, Audit Scotland calculates that 85 per cent of premises will have access to superfast broadband by March 2016.

The combined cost of building and maintaining the network is £412m, including a contribution of £165m from the Scottish public sector. The report says that while scrutiny arrangements are currently effective, arrangements are complex.

There’s a risk that project teams may not fulfil their contract management and monitoring roles in busier periods as workloads increase. Audit Scotland recommends that the Scottish Government and HIE keep staffing levels and workloads under review.