Friday, 22 October 2010

Scotland's Broadband Strategy 2001-2010

only the numbers have changed

Scotland has a problem
"the issue of the lack of trunk capacity is a real constraint on the promotion of economic development in island and remote rural areas, ....  island and remoter links are not robust"

Scotland has a broadband strategy – dating from 2001. In this post we look to see what has changed over the past decade. Short synopsis: nothing has changed but the numbers.

The 2001 strategy considered the backhaul requirements for five small towns. The speeds from 2000 look quaint (but remember, that even today the 26,000 population of the Western Isles shares one 34 Mb/s connection to the internet).

To adapt one of the key findings of the Digital Scotland working group to the language of the 2001 strategy, our Digital Scotland report finds that every 1,000 people require a backhaul bandwith of 32 Mb/s (at 25:1 contention, for 400 subscribers) to achieve subscriber speeds of 2 Mb/s – we argue that this is the minimum speed required for "functional internet access" in 2010.

By 2015, median speeds will have increased eight-fold. The minimum speed, available to all, should rise similarly, to 16 Mb/s, at which point a community of 1,000 will require 256 Mb/s of bandwidth. We should plan beyond that, for universal speeds of 128Mb/s in 2020.

Taking the 2000 populations, for ease of comparison, We see that each of these towns will require gigabit backhaul before 2015. This requires fibre. 
This why we recommend that every community of 2,000 people should have access to a fibre backhaul connection by 2015. Only fibre can provide the bandwidth required, just to satisfy the private demand.

The good thing is that once fibre reaches a community the backhaul issue will be resolved for decades to come. A single fibre can carry over 100 channels using different colours of light, and each channel can carry 100 Gb/s. Installing surplus fibre is cheap, so we can invest for the future as we provide for the present.

We must act now. Already many parts of Scotland cannot improve their internet connectivity for want of backhaul, and providers cannot extend mobile broadband coverage to many parts of Scotland for the same reason.

The primary aim first stated in 2001 has stood the test of time. It should still be the foundation for a strategy for the present:
  • to make affordable and pervasive broadband connections available to citizens and businesses across Scotland
We should still
  • ensure that every school has access to a rich online world in which it will be possible to communicate with others by text, voice or video.
  • ensure that all parts of the health service can transfer data and use telemedicine as necessary.
  • ensure that all local authorities can provide modern, customer focused services.
And public sector procurement is still a vital tool
  • Our objective is that, by providing broadband to the public sector, we stimulate providers to offer a wider range of services to business and individuals.
It is still true that
  • Higher bandwidth facilitates high volume data transfer and certain applications, such as video-streaming and concurrent design. If we are to have world-class education, world- class health services and globally competitive business, it will be vital that the latest applications can be used and for this we need “always on” broadband.
  • To be world-class, we need to be at the leading edge in the use of ICTs. That will require action to promote use, supplementing the stimulus of competition and the market.
  • Demand is important, but the market does not always respond quickly enough. Therefore the focus of this paper is how we ensure that when demand exists, services can be supplied.
In short, we need a world-class broadband telecommunications infrastructure.
We still find it difficult to plan because, "None of the maps of telecoms trunk and local networks in Scotland are either comprehensive or definitive. This is because firstly, this information is very largely commercial-in-confidence and secondly, the network is constantly evolving."
We still find that the issue of the lack of trunk capacity is a real constraint on the promotion of economic development in island and remote rural areas, and that island and remoter links are not robust. 

It is still the case that Monopoly provision persists in rural and remote areas. The 2001 concern about whether it will achieve future widespread commercial provision of broadband services to meet anticipated demand, has given way to certainty that it will not.

The key challenge remains: how to build on existing network strengths whilst addressing the shortcomings of the existing infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

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