Friday, June 01, 2012

Scotland broadband policy update

A useful starting point for current broadband developments in Scotland is the short paper A Digital Ambition for Scotland, published in October 2010 by the Scottish Government (press release here). This set out the Scottish Government's intention that next generation broadband will be available to all by 2020, with significant progress being made by 2015; and also that the rate of broadband uptake by people in Scotland should be at or above the UK average by 2013, and should be highest among the UK nations by 2015. So 2015 is positioned as very much as an interim, with 2020 being the the main objective, in keeping with the European targets for 2020. A related announcement a week later underlined the Scottish Government's commitments.

Building on the outlines set out in October 2010, Scotland's digital future - a Strategy for Scotland followed in March 2011 (press release here). This strategy paper, aligned with the UK Government strategy paper Britian's Superfast Broadband Future, set out the Scottish Government's plans in more detail and describing the many benefits that broadband is already realising and will bring in future. For example, in relation to healthcare (picking up on this previous post):
"...supporting frail people at home effectively has become an increasingly viable alternative to hospital or care home admissions. This is backed up by independent evaluation of the Telecare Development Programme, showing that between 2006 and March 2009 in Scotland 16,482 people had received a telecare service as a result of TDP support, £7.4 million of TDP expenditure had resulted in measured (gross) efficiencies worth £23.2 million, (and) survey data showed that over 60% of telecare service users felt their quality of life had improved as a consequence, while over 90% felt safer and 70% felt more independent. Three-quarters of carers felt less stressed as a result of telecare provided to the person they cared for."
This was followed in January 2012 by Scotland's Digital Future - Infrastructure Action Plan (press release here), describing "the Scottish Government’s commitment and the steps we will take to deliver world-class, future proofed digital infrastructure across all of Scotland by 2020, with an interim milestone of delivering a step change by 2015." This provided further detail of expected broadband speeds:
"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."
It also described the level of funding available, and the expectation that this will be met with private sector investment:
"The Scottish Government is committed to sourcing and securing the right level of funding to deliver the plan. We expect the industry to work in partnership with us to deliver the plan and we will put in place mechanisms to secure greater investment from the private sector. 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. In addition as much as £40m has already been earmarked by local authorities for this purpose. We will also seek to secure additional EU funding through future programmes."
Additional funding was announced the following month as part of the Budget (press release here); the plan also described the Scottish Government's belief that there was a case for additional funding:
"We believe Scotland has a case to make for additional funding from BDUK, given the particular geographic 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)."
In terms of delivery, the plan described the Government's intention to conduct a single procurement for the area of Scotland not encompassed by the Highlands and Islands project, as previously announced by BDUK as one of four pilot deployment areas in the UK (the others being Cumbria, Herefordshire and North Yorkshire, see this previous post and report from BDUK). The Government would also assess whether BDUK's procurement framework met the needs of Scotland, and would produce an additional plan for delivering its ambitions for 2020 by the end of 2012.

Then in May 2012 came Scotland's Digital Future - Infrastructure Action Plan - Step Change 2015 - Procurement Plan (press release here). This describes how ambitions for 2015 will be met (an additional plan for delivering 2020 ambitions will be published by the end of 2012), reiterating the Government's intention to conduct a single procurement for Scotland (excluding the Highlands and Islands, where developments are already underway) by September 2012, awarding the contract in the first half of 2013. It also reported that it was to Government's intention to use BDUK's procurement framework for this and to adopt a gap-funding model.

While the procurement will be undertaken nationally, local involvement will also be sought to inform the process and outcomes:
"The Infrastructure Action Plan is a national plan to achieve targets across Scotland, but it will be implemented in a way that reflects local plans and priorities. This requires joint working with local authorities, infrastructure providers and other stakeholders and a programme management structure that reflects stakeholder views at every stage. This will include consultation with our delivery partners on the shape of the final tender documents, local priorities for investment, the further development of the criteria for roll out and how to best deliver a solution in the areas where it will not be possible to deliver 40 - 80 Mbps."
An open market review will be conducted to confirm where investment should be targeted, concluding in August 2012. The rationale for a single procurement is given as follows:
  • It improves our ability to achieve national objectives around coverage, future proofing, resilience and interoperability of the infrastructure;
  • The costs to the public sector of running parallel procurement processes will be reduced;
  • It provides the greatest leverage to negotiate on the delivery of national objectives;
  • Consultation with industry suggests that a procurement of this size will be of a sufficient scale to be commercially attractive;
  • It provides a consistent approach to monitoring expenditure and revenue in accordance with State Aid requirements; and
  • A national procurement enables the establishment of a national delivery office and a quorum of pubic sector expertise, which includes the expertise of delivery partners to deliver benefits to the wider public sector.
On technology choices and future-proofing:
"Whilst the specification will be technology neutral, experience from similar exercises elsewhere suggests that fibre will be a substantial element of the solution as fibre backhaul is required to support delivery of mobile, wireless, satellite and digital TV solutions, and will provide the stepping stone to future improvement to deliver our 2020 vision."
Finally, this latest press release expresses the Scottish Government's disappointment that Inverness, Glasgow and Stirling are excluded from the second round of BDUK's Urban Broadband Fund, on the basis that Inverness and Stirling have less than 45,000 homes and businesses. Glasgow was unsuccessful in earlier rounds and is therefore ineligible to apply again.

Something to add to the conversation about additional funding requirements perhaps. I look forward to the forthcoming plan on achieving the Scottish Government's 2020 ambitions.

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