Delivering the ambition for next generation broadband to all by 2020, with significant progress by 2015, as set out in Scotland's Digital Future: A Strategy for Scotland  is one of the Government's top priorities for this Parliamentary term. Availability of next generation broadband connectivity is critical to Scotland's future. It will enable delivery of the future generation of digital public services, health and social care (e.g. telehealth). Digital public services will provide services which are easier, quicker and more convenient for people to use, and at a lower cost than other methods. This will bring about public sector efficiencies and savings. In addition, broadband must also be considered in the context of the wider reform on public services.
These sentiments were reflected in the McClelland review, with the key recommendations that: network contracts should be aggregated to build a single Scottish public sector network, to be used by every public sector organisation, university and college; and that combined spend should be leveraged to gain cost and performance advantages, whilst also delivering benefits to remote and rural areas.
Next generation broadband infrastructure will support future innovation in the digital economy and ensure Scotland's business base can remain competitive in the global digital environment. It will help the transition to a low carbon economy - allowing people to travel less and work from home. It will also play a critical role in driving rural economic growth and competitiveness, creating more and better jobs and opening up new opportunities for a different way of living and working that encourages strong and growing rural towns and villages and respects and protects our environment.
Scotland has some of the most challenging and rural geography and public sector action will be required to facilitate and extend the roll-out of next generation broadband across the whole of Scotland to ensure that rural and remote communities are not left behind.
As part of Spending Review 2011, we are setting out plans for a Next Generation Digital Fund to accelerate the roll- out of next generation broadband across Scotland, with a particular focus on rural areas. The fund will seek to maximise public sector investment in broadband infrastructure and leverage maximum levels of private sector investment to improve broadband coverage in Scotland.
Basic broadband availability in Scotland is now over 99%. This is following completion of the Broadband Reach Project in 2010 which provided over 2,400 broadband connections using satellite and wireless. This is a major increase from only 43% availability in 2001, when Scotland lagged behind the UK level of 63%.
In partnership with BT, over 2010-11, we have secured upgrades to 81 rural telephone exchanges across Scotland for improved broadband connectivity.
In October 2010, we secured the Highlands and Islands region as one of the first pilot areas of the UK to benefit from a share of £530 million UK Government funding for broadband. This project will deliver next generation broadband to around 50 towns and communities geographically spread across the Highlands and Islands. The project entered procurement in June 2011 and delivery of connectivity improvements is expected to begin within 12-18 months. In August 2011, we secured £68.8m for Scotland from the UK Government for next generation broadband roll-out. We will continue to work with the UK Government to ensure we get the best possible outcome for Scotland.
Public Sector Broadband Infrastructure
There has already been significant investment in high-speed broadband across the public sector in Scotland with the Pathfinder, Interconnect and JANET networks supporting education at all levels. The Scottish Government is investing £90m in Pathfinder alone (over 2007/08 - 2013/14).
Pathfinder North and Pathfinder South Projects provide high speed broadband to nearly 1,200 schools and other public sector sites across five local authorities in the Highlands and Islands, and across two local authorities in the South of Scotland. Furthermore, through Pathfinder South, we have contributed almost £240,000 to a next generation broadband pilot project in Annan that seeks to widen out access to the Pathfinder network for the benefit of business and communities.
Next Steps and Early Actions
The Scottish Government, working with other key stakeholders, is therefore developing a national plan that will bring together the ambition and actions in the Digital Strategy and the McClelland recommendations on broadband. We will consider the options available to us when we bring together our digital ambition for Scotland as a whole with our purchasing power as a consumer of digital services. We are determined that the approach we take will deliver the best outcomes for Scotland in the most cost effective manner. The private sector has an important role to play too and we need to find new ways of working effectively together to achieve the shared benefits of a digital age.
The plan will take into account:
- aggregation of public service demand for infrastructure and services to achieve value for money (McClelland);
- scope for public services investment to help build the infrastructure network and bring benefits to citizens and businesses (McClelland and Digital Strategy); and
- the commitment to develop a national broadband plan to achieve availability of next generation broadband (and digital connectivity) to all by 2020, with significant progress by 2015 (Digital Strategy).
We will develop this national broadband roll-out plan with funding proposals by the end of March 2012.
Between now and the end of March 2012, we will investigate different roll-out options (including technical specifications, financing and procurement models) and consult with a range of industry and public sector stakeholders on those options to ensure we bring forward the right delivery solution for Scotland. We will set out the vision and communicate progress on developing the strategy before the end of the year. Before the end of this year we will set out the main components of the plan.
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