Questions raised over superfast broadband

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
michael.russell@whfp.co.uk

As BT’s roll-out of a new fibre optic network gets underway, it was claimed this week that almost two-thirds of households in very remote areas of the West Highlands and Islands will not be able to enjoy superfast broadband.

Professor Peter Buneman of Edinburgh University, who helped set up a wireless broadband service for the Glenelg and Sleat areas, said BT were not going to upgrade enough local exchanges and pavement cabinets to supply more than 35 per cent of households in very remote areas. He used the Scottish Government’s own definition of “very remote rural” as those communities more than one hour away from a town of at least 10,000 people.

In order to receive superfast broadband, Prof Buneman said that households had to be no further than three-quarters of a mile from a “Point of Presence” — an upgraded exchange or cabinet.

He added: “The fibre that will soon pass through remote and rural Scotland will have been subsidised from the public purse, but it will belong to BT. Currently there are no published details of the locations of Points of Presence, nor of any contractual obligations on BT to provide access on competitive terms — and where there is public subsidy, there is no competition.

“Rather than assuming that a virtual monopoly of the telecommunications infrastructure will solve the problem if given enough money, the Scottish Government needs to act quickly, decisively and independently in order to avert the likelihood that yet another generation of rural inhabitants will miss out on the opportunities for social, political, and economic development afforded by the internet.”

A spokeswoman for Highlands and Islands Enterprise — who awarded  BT the £146 million contract to install the fibre optic network — said BT’s network businesses (Openreach and BT Wholesale) offered access to their fibre broadband networks and services to all communications/service providers on an “open, wholesale basis”.

She added: “The final design of the fibre network is fluid, and will be revised as we work to reach as many people as possible. There are ongoing discussions with BT to finalise where access points will be on the network.

“We have provided a map to indicate to customers the broad shape of the network and as it is finalised the detail will be rolled out about the specific locations for the main Points of Presence, as well as additional secondary points across the network which will also be developed to allow access.

“Currently these are the confirmed and live Points of Presence — Ardrossan (which while out of our area provides service to customers in the HIE area) Buckie, Dingwall, Elgin, Forres, Fort William, Huntly, Inverness, Kirkwall, Lerwick, Oban, Tain, and Thurso.”

However, regarding Prof Buneman’s central point that two-thirds of very remote households will not receive superfast broadband, the spokeswoman would only state the general position that 84 per cent of all households across the Highlands and Islands would have access to superfast broadband by 2017.

The roll-out of the fibre optic technology got underway in January in Moray and around Inverness. Most of the west coast and Western Isles are due to be connected during 2016.