Scotland's Digital Future: islands in the stream

Saturday 4th February 2012

The recently released "Scotland's Digital Future - Infrastructure Action Plan" seems to be set on ignoring any independence issues, to be counting heavily, not only on funding for UK aka superfast cities, but also additional funding from a rather beleaguered EU and is about to implement a patchwork of Scottish places you'll need to live in to be 40-80Mbps enabled.

The plan has appeared to turn a blind eye to  devolution  made no apparent reference to the RSE's report  on Digital Scotland and comes on the heels of a BT Scotland announcement that  "FTTP to potentially be available in all fibre enabled areas Faster FTTC speeds to be available this Spring after successful trials of “FTTP on demand” in St Agnes, Cornwall allowing additional fibre to be run on demand to a home or business in a Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) enabled area, providing the customer with ultra-fast Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) broadband. 

"Our current analysis," says the Infrastructur Plan  indicates that around 50% of premises in Scotland are in postcodes where high speed broadband is available (speeds of at least 24Mbps) and that this could increase to around 60% by 2014. In terms of mobile coverage, Ofcom data indicates that 85% of the population in Scotland has a 2G (voice) signal from at least one provider and around 63% of the population has a 3G (voice and data) signal from at least one mobile provider. For Scotland to get to a position where our digital infrastructure can be considered world-class will require a step change in the levels of coverage for both fixed and mobile technologies. 

"Our funding strategy to deliver the step change for the 2015 programme will come  from a mix of sources. This includes £68.8m from BDUK and £79.5m from the  Scottish Budget, including up to £25.5m of EU funds. We will also seek to secure  additional EU funding from the post 2013 programme and through future spending  reviews to deliver our full ambition to 2020.

"We believe Scotland has a case to make for additional funding from BDUK, given the particular and technical challenges we face and we will be making that case to UK Government. Scotland can also expect funding from the UK Government for ‘superfast cities’ (£100m Urban Broadband Fund) and for mobile ‘not spots’ (£150m Mobile Infrastructure Project)

"The Infrastructure Action Plan sets out four critical programmes, that combined, will  ensure that we meet our ambition and deliver a world-class digital infrastructure for  Scotland.

Programme 1: Achieving a step change by 2015 will address the current digital
divide and put in place infrastructure in those areas that the market will currently not go, to ensure a step change in speeds by 2015. The outcome we are seeking is a significant uplift in speeds for everyone by 2015, with speeds of 40 – 80Mbps for between 85% to 90% of premises. Our procurement strategy will seek to extend the reach further and deliver the best possible speeds for those where delivery of 40- 80Mbps is not possible at this stage.

Programme 2: Achieving world-class by 2020 will deliver a longer term plan,
developed in parallel, to ensure we have the right mechanisms, partnerships and commercial models in place to deliver world-class infrastructure in a sustainable way and in partnership with industry. Underpinning these core infrastructure programmes are two additional programmes:

Programme 3: Demonstrating and delivering innovative and local solutions will
be targeted at promoting locally based projects and programmes and also trialling
new technologies.

Programme 4: Increasing take-up and stimulating demand will be targeted at
raising digital participation rates (for businesses and individuals) raising demand for services – helping to improve the commercial case for investment and delivering better outcomes for Scotland.

"Improving mobile coverage across Scotland is also an important element of the plan to ensure people have good access, wherever they are, to telephone and data services from hand held platforms such as mobile and smart phones, and tablets.

"Within the Scottish Government, we are establishing a Digital Programme Office to  deliver these key programmes. A single Programme Board will oversee the delivery of the entire action plan. An external stakeholder group will provide advice, insight and a challenge function.

Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan Delivery approach

"Our current intention is to implement this programme through two closely related procurements: the current project in the Highlands and Islands, and a contract for the rest of Scotland. The current project in the Highlands and Islands is well into the procurement phase, and is a critical part of our overall plan given the specific geographical and  technological challenges of delivering next generation broadband in extremely  remote and rural areas.

"We recognise the significant progress they are making and  the momentum towards early delivery of improvements across the Highlands and Islands. It will also provide essential learning that we can use for future procurements. We will progress with their current procurement, provided it continues to meet value for money requirements, and in parallel, continue a dialogue on how the future requirements for the region can best be taken forward in a national approach.

"Our procurement for the 2015 programme will seek to put in place a single contract  for the rest of Scotland. We recognise that some areas have more advanced local plans than others, such as South of Scotland and Aberdeen City and Shire.

"It is clear that our ambitions for Scotland’s Digital Future are shared with our local government partners. We will work closely with COSLA and individual local authorities to ensure there is flexibility within the national approach to meet local requirements and priorities and to deliver local solutions.

"We are putting those engagement arrangements in place now and this will also include key partners, such as our enterprise agencies. We recognise the need to establish Scotland’s priorities while at the same time allowing partners to identify the priority actions within their own areas and ensuring there is no delay in progress.

"We will work with partners during the development of the procurement strategy to agree priority areas which will focus on: white areas; readiness of a particular area,  project; economic and social benefits; areas where current obtainable speeds are below our target.

"Both the Highlands and Islands and the rest of Scotland will form part of the development of an overall approach, covering both infrastructure and services referred to later in this plan.

"There are already a number of regional broadband projects at an advanced stage across Scotland. All of these projects form an essential part of our national plan. These projects have been developed by regional partnerships as they recognise that modern digital connectivity is one of the essential components of creating successful regions.

"For businesses and social enterprises it enhances productivity and drives innovation. In communities and fragile areas it has the potential to boost economic development, retain young people and attract new residents. Connectivity, both fixed and mobile, is central to the successful development of emerging sectors such as

The Highlands and Islands (H&I) Broadband ProjectThis covers the entire Highlands and Islands region and is being led and managed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).  The project will be delivered in phases – the first phase aims to deliver next generation broadband to around 50 towns and communities geographically spread across the H&I region by 2015. Also by 2015 the project aims to provide everyone in the region with at least 2Mbps. The overall ambition of the project is for 100% coverage of next generation broadband by 2020.

On 8 June 2011, the project entered its procurement phase which is expected to last 12 months. Delivery of connectivity improvements to the H&I region is expected to begin January 2013 onwards. HIE has so far secured an initial £20m to deliver the project through BDUK, HIE and EU funding.

The South of Scotland Alliance (SoSA) has developed a regional broadband plan to provide next generation broadband to 100% of the south of Scotland population by 2020, with an interim target of 90% availability by the end of 2015 and a minimum connection of 2Mbps to the remaining 10%. The Project also aims to increase take up levels of broadband services across the region. Borders and Dumfries and Galloway Councils have committed up to £21m as a contribution towards delivery of the plan.

The project aims to future proof the south of Scotland infrastructure and it proposes that this will be achieved through the improvement of local access infrastructure, backhaul infrastructure and Points of Presence to improve the affordability and availability of next generation broadband. Open access to allow competitive service development is a key objective. To help improve the business model and to meet the public sector requirements in this area, the Council’s public sector network (PSN) requirements will be offered as anchor tenants.

Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF) a partnership of public and private sector representatives from the North East of Scotland, has developed a Regional Broadband Plan to deliver a world-class infrastructure for the North East of Scotland. 

ACSEF has secured £20m funding from Aberdeen City and Shire Councils as a contribution towards delivery of the plan. The plan proposes three principal initiatives: Build an open access fibre network running around the western periphery of the city to enhance coverage of major residential and industrial developments at Westhill, Kingswells, Dyce and Bridge of Don and help enable world-class broadband in the Energetica strategic development corridor.

Develop and implement a rural access strategy to ensure 100% availability of  broadband services and access speeds in the rural areas are significantly increased. This will be achieved through a mix of technologies and the utilisation of the Aberdeenshire Council network currently serving Aberdeenshire sites and schools. Deploy a next generation wireless network in Aberdeen City utilising its existing property portfolio as an incentive for wireless operators to deploy base stations across the City

Programme 1 – Key next steps
We will: produce a procurement strategy by March 2012. Commence procurement by September 2012. Award contract in the first half of 2013. Work with HIE to support their project, contributing effectively and economically to the national strategy. Establish a coherent overall approach for public sector investment in infrastructure and demand for services that ensures overall value for money

Programme 2 – Key next steps
We will: develop a full plan outlining the options for delivering our world-class ambition by December 2012; build a strong relationship with COSLA and individual local authorities when formulating the plan, and also engage with wider partners, such as enterprise agencies.

Programme 3 – Key next steps
We will: establish a seed fund by April 2012. Engage with industry, communities and academia on promoting innovative technology options. Support Scottish bids to UK Government’s Urban Broadband Fund

Programme 4 – Key next steps
We will: work with the signatories of the Digital Participation Charter on projects to  increase take up rates over the lifetime of the Parliament. Key areas for early  priority action reflecting demographic, geographic and customer need and  change of technologies for digital access, will be selected during spring 2012.

In partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Business Gateway,  launch a business support project, targeted at upskilling SMEs in the Highlands  and Islands in February 2012. In partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway, launch a business  support project targeted at upskilling SMEs in the rest of Scotland in April 2012.  Publish a digital public services plan in spring 2012 and ensure that public sector  ICT can enable the digital public services plan efficiently and effectively. 

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