Brief update on progress of R100 fiber optic broadband deployment in Scotland

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The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Kate Forbes, has released a brief update on the progress of their £600million Reaching 100% (R100) project with BT (Openreach), which is extending the fixed “ultra-fast broadband” (30 Mbps +) coverage – the vast majority of which comes via FTTP – in rural parts of the country.

Just to recap. The R100 program is divided into three contracts (LOTS) and focuses on extending connectivity capable of 30Mbps+ to as many approximately 5% of underserved premises in Scotland as possible. LOT 1 (North Scotland and the Highlands) is expected to cover an additional 59,276 premises (100% via FTTP), while LOT 2 (Central Scotland) will reach 32,216 establishments (95.6% via FTTP and the rest FTTC) and LOT 3 (Southern Scotland) will reach 20,740 premises (100% via FTTP).

REMARK: The average cost to connect premises below R100 was recently revealed at £5,690 by Audit Scotland (here).

Overall, about 112,000 premises should now be covered by all three R100 contracts by 2026/27 – this largely reflects the delayed completion of LOT 1 following Gigaclear’s earlier legal challenge (i.e. LOT 2/3 should end much earlier, around 2023/24).

The latest data published by Kate Forbes this week reveals that Openreach and gigabit vouchers have so far completed coverage for “more … than9,800 premiseswhich is up from 5,900 in February 2022 and 5,300 in December 2021.”We currently have 9,500 additional connections under construction, in addition to the 9,800 connections already delivered“added Forbes. But unfortunately, those are all the details we have.

However, Forbes made one final interesting point, which was in response to a question about how the Scottish Government will reach out to remote rural areas that will not receive R100.

Kate Forbes said:

“I continue to engage with Openreach, in particular, to see if we can push construction even further and faster than what is currently on offer. Again, understanding the importance of not just starting work on some of our islands, but to complete it, I am also engaged with the UK government to ensure that funding for the gigabit project helps to complete the work on our islands.

Of course, one of the big challenges is the UK government’s arbitrary cap of £7,000 to reach rural properties. In other words, if connecting a property costs more than £7,000, the UK government cannot help through the gigabit scheme. However, we will try to ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle in terms of funding and support reach our islands and that we finish the job.

As of this writing, we are still waiting to hear how the Gigabit Project funding for Scotland will be handled (aka – Lot 39). But the Building Digital UK (DCMS) program has already determined that the last 0.3% of the UK (i.e. less than 100,000 premises) may be too expensive to reach even for the Gigabit project ( the proportional percentage will undoubtedly be higher in Scotland). A series of alternative proposals for this are currently under consultation (here).

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