Br i efi ng Pa p er (12-01

)
Febr ua ry 2 0 1 2

Scottish Parliament Debate: Scotland’s Next Generation Broadband Infrastructure Plan
1 The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) welcomes the publication of Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan 1 and looks forward to the debate on the strategy in the Scottish Parliament. Following the publication of the RSE’s own report Digital Scotland 2 in October 2010, chaired by Professor Michael Fourman, the RSE has continued to engage with both the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament on the development of a broadband infrastructure plan for Scotland. The Action Plan sets out a level of ambition that has not previously been seen at Scottish or UK level. The revised goal of a significant uplift in speeds for everyone by 2015, including 40 – 80 Mbps to 85% – 90% of premises, demonstrates real recognition of the continuing rate of change both in broadband speeds and in how Scotland’s people and businesses use the internet.The ambition to deliver world-class infrastructure by 2020, with an understanding that the definition of ‘world-class’ will evolve but looking to leading competitors such as Sweden, shows determination that Scotland should be at the forefront of the digital ‘revolution’ and be able to exploit the benefits this will bring. 4 The Digital Scotland report identifies the need for a core fibre infrastructure connecting every community of 2,000 people in Scotland to the global internet. From this point of connection – this ‘digital hub’ in every community – a mixture of technologies, including fibre, copper, wireless and mobile connectivity, will then be able to bring high speed broadband to everyone. But it is worth noting that it is only fibre that has the capacity to deliver high speeds across long distances and to high numbers of users. To deliver 40 – 80 Mbps to 85% – 90% of premises will require new fibre connecting back to existing fibre infrastructure.We are concerned that a start date in 2013 may be too late to deliver this network by 2015, and recommend that preparatory work on planning routes, wayleaves etc. should be started as soon as possible.We also emphasise the necessity for this fibre infrastructure (Programme 1) to be designed with the longer-term ‘world class’ goals (Programme 2) in mind, rather than in isolation. Ensuring that the core fibre infrastructure is ‘open access’ will stimulate competition and choice in the ‘last mile’ networks; making previously remote markets attractive to Internet Service Providers, or enabling community initiatives to take on this role. By ‘open access’ we mean that all organisations, regardless of size, can access the backbone fibre infrastructure on equal, competitive terms.This will be a fundamental building block of world-class digital infrastructure and we will follow with interest how this develops in the Highlands and Islands Broadband Project.

2

5

6

An open access backbone infrastructure for Scotland
3 The development of an open access backbone infrastructure was identified in Digital Scotland as key to making next generation broadband speeds available across Scotland. It is very encouraging to see this reflected in the Action Plan, recognising that merely patching together existing infrastructure will not deliver the future performance needed for Scotland to keep pace with competitors. However, the RSE would like to see more detail on what is meant by ‘open access’ and the shape of the ‘backbone infrastructure’ that is referred to in the Plan.

1 http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2012/01/1487 2 http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/886_DigitalScotland.html

1

Br i efi ng Pa p er
Delivery of Scotland’s digital infrastructure
7 As set out in the Infrastructure Action Plan, public sector procurement will be the key lever in delivering the core national network needed to generate a step change in broadband speeds available to all by 2015. The careful design of the procurement strategy will be crucial to ensuring that the network delivers maximum benefit in the long term.The commitments set out in the Plan, namely that the procurement strategy will deliver open access infrastructure, be part of a coherent overall approach, encourage innovation, deliver community benefits etc, all suggest that there is an appreciation of many of the issues involved. But it will be the details of the procurement plan that will determine the level of progress towards the Scottish Government’s goal for 2015. The development of a plan to deliver the ambition of achieving world-class digital infrastructure by 2020 will require real partnership working between central and local government, industry, investors and regulators. Innovative approaches to delivery, funding and financing must be flexible enough to respond to the changes in the digital environment. Regulation must be reviewed to ensure that it is fit-for-purpose, enabling fair competition rather than inhibiting it, as is currently the case in some instances, such as the current UK ratings regime. Harnessing public sector utilisation, as models for the delivery of public services, education and healthcare evolve, will be also a powerful driver. The Digital Scotland report proposes the establishment of a Digital Scotland Trust as a vehicle that would be able to take a broad, long-term view of the delivery and operation of Scotland’s core fibre infrastructure for the national good. Recognising the governance structures set up within the Scottish Government to oversee the delivery of broadband infrastructure, there remains a role for a vehicle such as a Trust that can provide long-term stability. 11 Recognising that the delivery of broadband infrastructure is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, the RSE is currently turning its attention to the question of how to ensure that Scotland reaps the social, cultural and economic benefits that such world-class infrastructure will present. By addressing the questions of what people, businesses and organisations will need in order to be able to participate in the evolving digital society; how digital access can help to narrow the social divide; and how to unleash the innovation that high-speed broadband will enable; the RSE’s contribution will complement the work of the Digital Participation Charter signatories and others.

8

Further information
The RSE’s report Digital Scotland (October 2010) and related updates can be found at http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/886_DigitalScotland.html For further information please contact Susan Lennox, RSE Policy Officer, on 0131 240 2789 or at evidenceadvice@royalsoced.org.uk. All RSE advice papers can be found at www.royalsoced.org.uk.

9

10 The RSE would welcome continued engagement with the Scottish Government, Parliament and other stakeholders as the detailed procurement strategy and long-term plans are developed.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is Scotland’s National Academy. It is an independent body with a multidisciplinary fellowship of men and women of international standing which makes it uniquely placed to offer informed, independent comment on matters of national interest. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland's National Academy, is Scottish Charity No. SC000470

2