Scotland’s Broadband: Scottish Minister Responds to UK Government Criticism

In a Parliamentary Q&A session held last Thursday1 (14 September), Digital Minister Matt Hancock blamed the Scottish Government2 for Scotland’s alleged lack of accessibility to super-fast broadband. His comments came in response to a query raised by Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP to Orkney and Shetland, concerning poor broadband speeds in his constituency. Hancock said: “The Scottish Government have been the slowest of all of the different organisations around the country to contract the broadband that we so desperately need. That is why Scotland is behind. We are offering technical support, but they are behind every English county and behind both the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Government, and they need to get a move on.” Connectivity Minister to the Scottish Government, Fergus Ewing, issued a response to the accusations, claiming that they were “inaccurate,” and “wildly without any basis in fact.”

“The Digital Scotland Super-fast Broadband3 (DSSB) is, and always has been, due to complete its initial phase by the end of 2017, with extended build through Gainshare to be delivered during 2018,” he said. “It would quite simply have been inconceivable for us to have launched subsequent broadband procurements before the DSSB coverage footprint was nearing completion. This is a position that has been discussed and agreed with BDUK4 (Broadband Delivery UK) officials. “Alongside our partners, we have invested over ?400 million in Scotland’s Digital Super-fast Broadband programme, resulting in over 780,000 premises having access to fibre broadband and despite the unique geographical challenges Scotland contends with, the vast majority of those premises are capable of receiving super-fast speeds.” He added: “Ofcom’s5 Connected Nations Report 20166 highlighted that super-fast broadband coverage in Scotland had seen the largest increase across any of the UK nations in the previous 12 months. Indeed, without the investment in the DSSB programme, access across the country would only be at 66%, access in the Highlands would only be at 21%, and Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles would have no access to fibre broadband at all.

“The Scottish Government has chosen to act, and our commitment to deliver 100% super-fast broadband access by the end of 2021 is a unique commitment across the UK.

We are firmly of the view that our ambitious plan is the right one for Scotland’s economy and we will continue to urge the UK Government to match our ambition.”

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  1. ^ Parliamentary Q&A session held last Thursday (www.theyworkforyou.com)
  2. ^ Scottish Government (www.gov.scot)
  3. ^ Digital Scotland Super-fast Broadband (www.scotlandsuperfast.com)
  4. ^ BDUK (www.gov.uk)
  5. ^ Ofcom’s (www.ofcom.org.uk)
  6. ^ Connected Nations Report 2016 (www.ofcom.org.uk)

Nigeria: Concerns Over Impending Technology Risk Among Commonwealth Countries

By Emma Okonji

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Mr. Shola Taylor, has warned of an impending risk that is likely to rob Commonwealth countries of modern technology benefits.

He stated that many Commonwealth countries may likely miss out on the benefits of Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and augmented reality technology innovation, if they do not invest sufficiently in broadband and ICT services.

Taylor, who spoke at the opening of the just concluded CTO ICT Forum’17, which held in Maputo, Mozambique, called on Commonwealth countries including Nigeria to consider huge investment in broadband, which he described as a platform for the next frontier of technology advancement.

He called on member countries to invest urgently in broadband as well as in information and communications technology (ICT) services, or miss out on IoT and AI evolution.

Taylor, a Nigerian citizen was the chief executive officer of Kemilinks International, a global ICT consultancy firm based in Lagos. He had over 35 years of global experience in ICTs with government and the private sector, prior to his appointment as Commonwealth Secretary General in 2015, warned commonwealth countries of the danger of not investing heavily in broadband.

According to him, “With the IoT, we have a new environment conducive of opportunities for new forms of digital entrepreneurship or public service delivery. But there are still far too many without access to the internet, who are unable to take advantage of the opportunities and benefits that digital technologies have to offer.”

Taylor spoke alongside Mozambique’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Carlos Mesquita; Director-General, International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation, Patrick Masambu; and Deputy Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union, Malcolm Johnson.

The event, which was declared open by Mozambique’s Prime Minister, His Excellency Carlos Agostinho do Ros?rio, was attended by ministers, regulators, national ICT agencies, industry executives, non-profit organisations and academia from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, South Asia and the Pacific.

“We need to investigate new options to provide broadband, including low-orbit space solutions. To achieve this, more investment is essential. Of course, universal service funds must continue to invest and deliver on increasing access. Countries must invest in services for their citizens, and in the infrastructure to support the delivery of these services, or they will miss out on the benefits of IoT, Big Data and augmented reality technologies,” Taylor warned.

“It’s important for us to continue developing infrastructures as well as information and communications technology services in order to ensure greater availability and coverage of online services,” the Prime Minister said.

Experts at the forum were of the view that internet access is the key to development, being the first step towards a digital nation.

“Big Data, Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and 5G will all shape our digital future. They are important steps on the journey towards a digital nation and we need to bring together technologists, regulators and policy makers, not only from the ICT sector, but all the sectors that will depend on the technology, in order to address these challenges,” they added.

The theme of this year’s forum was Digital Nations, Digital Wealth, with discussions focused on the prospects for socio-economic growth in a digital future comprising virtual environments, the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, machine-to-machine communications and augmented reality applications. The forum attracted participation from other organisations such as ICANN, Facebook and Huawei who actively contributed to various sessions on universal broadband, regulation of virtual environments, the digital economy, security and privacy.

In Nigeria, broadband penetration has been abysmally low, prompting industry stakeholders to raise concern that Nigeria may not achieve the National Broadband Plan, which targets 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, up from the current broadband penetration level of 21 per cent.

Their concern however seems not to move the federal government of Nigeria, that has assured Nigerians of surpassing the 30 per cent broadband penetration by 2018, given the current indices on the licensing of two Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) and the planned licensing of additional five InfraCos that will drive broadband penetration and internet access in Nigeria.

At the CTO Forum, consensus emerged from the discussions, which clearly stated that: The journey to the digital future is both individual and collective; Public investment is a necessity to connect the unconnected, as although 3G covers 85 per cent of the world, only half of the world population is connected to the internet.

Other consensus reached, included that: Countries must develop coordinated multi-sectoral strategies for ICTs, to include broadband infrastructure, health, education, agriculture and other areas; IoT and augmented reality may require less and but more flexible regulation; The need to balance open data with privacy; Government to lead by deploying e-government services, among others.

The CTO ICT Forum is the annual ICT conference of the Commonwealth, which is the oldest and largest Commonwealth intergovernmental organisation in the field of ICTs.

With a diverse membership spanning developed and least developed countries, small island developing states, and more recently also the private sector and civil society, the CTO aims to become a trusted partner for sustainable development for all through ICTs.

BT Scotland: Don’t Underestimate Scotland’s Broadband Infrastructure

Recent headlines suggesting Scotland’s ‘poor’ digital infrastructure could threaten the economy underestimate the country’s digital capabilities and miss the real issue. The new Queensferry Crossing is a magnificent achievement and is rightly praised – but the roll-out of fibre broadband across the whole of Scotland is an equally successful civil engineering project on a similar scale. It’s on time, on budget and, indeed, has delivered more coverage at higher speeds than originally planned to date, with work ongoing. So why do we constantly sell ourselves short to the world, and potential inward investors, by claiming our infrastructure isn’t up to the job? The facts are: Independent analysis1 by ThinkBroadband shows that more than 90% of Scottish households and business premises can now order broadband at speeds of 30Mbps and above.
To put this in context, the UK’s independent Broadband Stakeholder Group has previously suggested the average household will require a maximum of 19Mbps by 2023. So far, only around a third of premises have upgraded to the faster fibre-based speeds. Think Broadband estimates that if everyone in Scotland was to buy the fastest service now available to them over any network, the maximum mean download speed would rise to more than 150Mbps.
The Scottish economy would benefit most from greater exploitation of the internet capacities that are available right now. Thousands of small and medium sized businesses, with average bandwidth needs, have access to Openreach’s fibre-based network at speeds of up to 80Mbps. (A typical fibre-to-the-cabinet line is around 93% fibre and 7% copper, so to describe it as copper is a bit misleading.) Meanwhile any business or organisation with significant bandwidth demands can buy dedicated ultrafast services from BT and other services providers with a range of gigabit speeds available. We work with businesses to deliver what they need, where they need it most – not just in city centres.

But the story doesn’t end there. Openreach is now at the start of a new roll-out of next generation ultrafast broadband infrastructure, using both fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) and its new G.fast technology. The latter uses existing fibre and copper, but can provide speeds of up to 330Mbps -and because it builds on the existing network, it can be rolled out very quickly and efficiently, without the need to dig up the roads. Openreach is currently deploying FTTP in the very rural communities of Skerray and Altnaharra in a trial looking at how such delivery can be made more efficient. And it is working with developers to build FTTP connectivity for free into all new developments of 30 houses or more. The bottom line is that Scotland can have whatever technology it wants from Shetland to Stranraer, but there is a cost. Detractors, who do not have to contribute to these costs, have said little about how they imagine such services will be paid for. Scotland is not South Korea, Singapore or even the much-mooted Faroe Islands. The geographic challenges – and associated costs – of laying fibre across Scotland are immense. It’s extremely difficult – and expensive – to bury cable in granite. Most people don’t live in easily-wired apartment blocks – they live in individual homes and scattered settlements in some of the least populated parts of Europe.

The Shetland Islands alone cover a larger geographic area than the Faroes. Singapore’s population of 5m live in an area the size of East Lothian with a population density more than 100 times greater than Scotland’s. Singapore invested ?445m of public money to fund its fibre rollout – the pro-rata equivalent would be around ?10bn of public money in the UK.

At BT we’re always open to a respectful conversation about infrastructure. Unlike some of our detractors, we’re investing in the digital future for all of Scotland. But as a nation, we need to focus our efforts on making the most of the significant digital capabilities already in place right now, across all sectors of the economy.

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  1. ^ Independent analysis (labs.thinkbroadband.com)