Many people in Fife are being forced to endure broadband speeds slower than in some “Third World” countries, it has been claimed. MSP Murdo Fraser this week claimed business growth in Fife is being stunted by poor broadband connections and people in rural areas have backed him. Peter Holmes, 57, who lives at Ryelaw Farm in Leslie, said residents have been subjected to a broadband speed of between 0.4 and 0.8MB, well short of the 24MB superfast broadband target. And it was only last week his family had their service restored after two-and-a-half months because of a line fault. He said: “According to the engineers when they come, our line is slow because of the distance from the exchange and the line is made from aluminium. “The line engineers seem to doubt the fact that we will ever get broadband speeds in excess of 3MB never mind superfast broadband, although I suppose 3MB is superfast compared to what I’m getting at the moment. “There must be many people in Scotland suffering unacceptable broadband speeds with little hope of ever getting a greater speed. “Many countries throughout the world that are referred to as ‘Third World’ have faster speeds than we do, so it makes you wonder. “When you talk to the engineers about upgrading, they just laugh. It’s a complete and utter nightmare. “We’re not asking for a lot, we’re just asking for a decent line.” The Scottish Government says the digital Scotland superfast broadband programme is making “excellent progress”, with 98.4% of premises in Fife expected to have access by March. A BT spokesman said: “All copper lines are subject to the laws of physics, which means that broadband signal deteriorates after a certain distance. “BT is committed to working with customers to put things right if speeds fall below the estimated range we provide at point of sale and we’ve contacted Mr Holmes, who hadn’t reported a fault, so that we can help him get the best speed possible on his line. “We’re still in the process of rolling out high-speed fibre broadband across Scotland ... more than 100,000 homes and businesses can order fibre broadband across Fife and a further 38,000 lines have been connected through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband partnership. “Engineers have carefully planned the rollout to reach the most people possible with the budget available. “New locations are announced each quarter with work ongoing across Fife. “We understand the impatience for progress to be even faster, but improving broadband involves complex and expensive national engineering contending with all manner of physical and geographic challenges.”
The £410 million government project to connect every corner of Scotland to superfast broadband by the end of next year is in danger of missing its target, it has been claimed. MSP Murdo Fraser expressed his fears after learning only 52% of Perth and Kinross is currently connected, while in Angus it is 63%, Dundee 94% and Fife 74%. The Scottish Government’s Digital Superfast Broadband Programme aims to make fibre-based broadband available to 95% of all premises by the end of 2017. Mr Fraser said: “With only 52% of premises in Perth and Kinross connected to superfast broadband the Scottish Government has a big job on its hands to meet the 95% target by 2017, and unless real strides are made I struggle to see how this will be achieved. “It is disappointing to learn that only Scotland’s islands and remote highland communities have a poorer connection to the superfast broadband grid than those in Perth and Kinross. “Poor broadband connections and slow internet speeds are stunting the growth of businesses across the region and causing serious frustration for people at home trying to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. “With access to the internet central to almost every aspect of daily life, including using vital public services, it is high time that better digital infrastructure was delivered in Perth and Kinross and I would call on the Scottish Government to quicken the pace of its current initiatives.” A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The digital Scotland superfast broadband programme is making excellent progress, with over 500,000 premises covered so far. “We have already met our interim national target of 85% coverage by March 2016, and are well on the way to achieving our 95% target by the end of next year. “The DSSB programme is delivering significant investment across Scotland. In Perth and Kinross 90% of premises will have access to fibre broadband once the project has rolled out. “Coverage would only have been 40% without the programme’s investment. “In Fife 98.4% will have access, Dundee City 98.7% will have access and Angus 93.5% will have access. “Coverage would only have been 69.2%, 95% and 69.7%, respectively, without our investment. “The commercial fibre rollout has now passed more than 220,000 premises in Fife, Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross and we are working with our partners to roll this out further as the programme continues.” A spokesperson for BT said: “We’re still in the process of rolling out high-speed fibre broadband across Scotland, working hand in hand with the public sector.” They said “significant work” is planned for Perth and Kinross in the coming months and the latest detail is available at www.scotlandsuperfast.com.
Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...
Janet Torley is a member of the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish Policy Unit – and runs Practical Marketing, a communications business, from Dunfermline . Here she tells Michael Alexander about the importance of broadband connectivity and investment. How well covered is Scotland when it comes to broadband infrastructure? Official statistics show that Scotland’s broadband infrastructure is improving rapidly, but still lags well behind England. So, figures from Ofcom show that 73 per cent of Scottish smaller firms could access superfast speeds in 2016 – compared to 55 per cent the year before. South of the border last year, 90 per cent of premises could get a good connection. Scotland needs to work hard to both close the gap with England – but we must also keep our international competitors in our sights. Experts highlight that places like South Korea and the Nordic countries have similar geographies but better connectivity. How important is it for businesses to have access to fast broadband connection? Fast broadband is especially important for firms which need to transfer large files – like architects and graphic designers. All sorts of hospitality businesses now have to offer their customers wi-fi with their white wine. But – perhaps more important than speed is reliability. Many firms are integrating digital systems into their operations, and these can fall down without a good connection. Even if your vehicle management or teleconferencing system takes up a pile of bandwidth, you still want your team to do their work. Do rural areas face particular problems when it comes to access and what are the consequences for businesses if they don’t? Unsurprisingly, rural Scotland lags behind our cities for both mobile and broadband coverage. Less than half of Scottish rural premises can access superfast speeds. Less than 40 per cent of Scotland’s land mass has mobile coverage from all four operators. We regularly hear from business owners looking to move locations because of poor levels of connectivity. Every time that happens, you’re moving local jobs and growth in a forward-looking company to our more built up areas. That’s bad news for rural Scotland. Is local and central government doing enough to ensure there is adequate coverage? Every level of government has a responsibility to ensure Scotland keeps up. The Scottish Government has promised a superfast broadband connection for every building in Scotland by 2021. That’s a bold target – but, for business, progress can’t come fast enough. What will be especially important is that this big investment delivers for the long term – that must mean delivering connection speeds fit for the future. The UK Government is still charged with overall responsibility for the telecoms market – and has promised action to improve connections – which could help fund work in Scotland. Telecoms providers argue that the planning system can push up costs – so local government must keep tabs on whether their systems encourage improvement. The regulator, Ofcom, has recently ordered BT to split its business wing from its infrastructure wing. FSB has argued that this must result in a better quality of service for firms because too many members report issues with repairing faults and establishing connections. How important is broadband infrastructure to the Tayside and Fife economies? It is well-known that Dundee is Scotland’s digital hub – if these fast growing companies can’t get access to the connections and skills they need, they’ll move.Courier Country is also a tourism hotspot – and many accommodation providers in rural areas complain that they cannot get connections that suit their operations. If visitors to Scotland think that we’re a digital backwater, what chance do we have tempting them back? And, if visitors can’t get a decent data signal of their mobile devices and can’t, say, browse nearby businesses when they’re here, how many brilliant shops, pubs, cafes or restaurants are missing out on their custom? What role does FSB Scotland play in pushing for broadband access? At both Holyrood and Westminster, FSB continues to make the case to politicians that they need to deliver rapid improvements to our digital infrastructure – specifically broadband and mobile coverage. We’ve argued hard in the media – and showed politicians the impact that bad connections can have on local business. In addition, FSB members get to access our own award-winning telecoms service provider. FSB Communications aren’t tied to any one network or supplier, but provide impartial free advice. How important will technology be for businesses in future? Three quarters of Scottish businesses say that digital technologies are important to their plans for growth. For firms to take advantage of new tech, they need the right skills and access to the right infrastructure. A recent FSB report warned that many Scottish firms need to watch out that they don’t end up like the video rental shop. It is no longer the case that businesses in certain sectors or geographies are insulated from rapid technological change.
BT has defended its siting of broadband cabinets in the Dundee west end conservation area after a councillor branded the installations a "blot on the local landscape." Fraser Macpherson was speaking after Dundee City Council agreed to let BT construct the cabinets at Magdalen Green, West Park Road and Perth Road. He said, "I don't think anyone objects to the provision of superfast broadband, but are the boxes housing the cabling appropriate for conservation areas? There's been absolutely no attempt by BT Openreach to provide a box that has a heritage-style appearance more in keeping with a conservation area." He added, "A large national company like BT should take account of the appropriateness of its street furniture for the setting they are placed in, and these big ugly boxes should not be sitting in the city's conservation areas. There are alternative styles that are more appropriate, and I call on the company to consider these." Openreach, the BT division installing superfast broadband, has worked with Historic Scotland, local authorities and conservation groups to find solutions to siting street cabinets in conservation areas without diminishing their aesthetic appeal, and there are technical considerations to take into account. A spokesman said BT supports the UK Government's vision of creating the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015 and have pledged to invest £2.5bn to deliver superfast fibre broadband to two-thirds of the UK by 2015.Investment"No other company in the world is investing as much in fibre without either public-sector support, or a regulatory environment, which allows the company to make far greater returns," he continued. "Over the course of the programme Openreach is installing 30,000 cabinets, connecting 200,000 distribution points, enabling more than 1000 exchanges and laying over 50,000km of fibre enough to stretch around the entire world. "BT is deploying at twice the pace of Deutsche Telecom, AT&T, Verizon & Belgacom and more than three times the pace of peers in Japan and Korea. It has doubled the number of its apprentices to 500 and last year trained nearly 1500 additional engineers to work on what is one of the biggest engineering programmes under way in Europe today." The spokesman added that the importance of the technology to the nation's business community was emphasised by Dr Lesley Sawers, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, when superfast became available to more than 100,000 Scottish homes and businesses last autumn. She stated, "BT's roll-out of superfast broadband is essential to Scotland achieving its potential in the global economy. Our ambition is for the value of Scotland's exports to double by 2020. Providing enhanced connections from Scotland to the rest of the world is a critical factor in achieving this."
More small and remote communities are to get digital broadband, BT has announced. The next stage of the £410 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband rollout aims to reach 73,000 more homes and businesses in 24 council areas, from Bressay in Shetland to Dolphinton in the Borders. The small communities around Loch Ness and the Highland fishing village of Mallaig are among the places getting high speed fibre for the first time. Brendan Dick, director of Digital Scotland partner BT Scotland, said: "It's great news that some iconic and very rural Highland locations are next in line to benefit, including a number of Loch Ness communities. Maybe even Nessie will go online. "Across the UK, 23 million premises are now covered by BT's open access network, with three million of those enabled under the BDUK (Broadband Delivery UK) programme. "Our Openreach engineers have worked tirelessly to connect some of the most remote parts of Scotland, from Shetland and the Hebrides to Rothesay in Argyll and Bute, and now places like Dores and Drumnadrochit are set to follow. "On the back of strong take-up of fibre services in partnership areas, BT is releasing additional funds which will enable us to go even further at no extra cost to the taxpayer much earlier than originally expected. Around £17.8 million is available for Scotland to help us reach even more communities like the ones we're announcing today." However, Digital Scotland has advised that not all premises will be able to access fibre-based broadband at the same point due to "current network topography and the economics of deployment", and warned that "actual results may differ from those expressed or implied" due to unforeseen circumstances. The UK Government today announced the UK-wide rollout of superfast broadband has now passed more than three million homes and businesses, nearly 400,000 in Scotland, and is on track to reach 95% of Britain by 2017. Almost £18 million will be made available in Scotland to take the rollout of fibre broadband further. Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: "By reaching out to those communities who would not have been covered by the commercial market, in towns and into some of our most rural areas, we are ensuring that the connections which are made will bring many benefits to the Scottish people both at home and in business." UK Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: "Our nationwide rollout of superfast broadband has now reached more than three million homes and businesses in the UK, with more than 394,000 in Scotland alone now able to connect to the new fibre network. "The UK Government is investing £120 million to roll out superfast broadband in Scotland and I'm delighted at the tremendous progress being made which will see around 95% of Scotland able to access superfast speeds by March 2018."
A Fife group is to ask providers to tender for providing superfast broadband to areas of north east Fife not covered by the BT digital roll-out. Community Initiative North East Fife (Coinef), a charity funded by Fife Council and supported by Fife Voluntary Action and Community Broadband Scotland, says a consultation showed a need for an alternative to the mainstream offering. Councillor Andy Heer, a director of Coinef, said: “It’s been a long drawn out process and continues to be so. “EU regulations mean that council and government funds can’t be used where we might compete with commercial interests so in the first instance we will only be looking to introduce superfast broadband into areas where BT and other providers are not doing so. We have to advertise our intentions and give any potential commercial competitors time to respond. “We then have to report the results to an EU agency who we anticipate will give us the all-clear to go ahead and invite tenders.” That process should be done by the end of August. Councillor Elizabeth Riches added: “Fife is leading the way with this exciting initiative which will bring superfast broadband to farms, cottages and businesses out in the countryside where there was previously no hope of getting a good broadband service. These days everyone should be able to expect a good internet service wherever they live.”
Perthshire business leaders this week accused communications giant Virgin Media of abandoning communities by failing to provide high-speed broadband to rural Perthshire. The firm claimed it is ahead of schedule in rolling out superfast connectivity to 13 million homes in the UK, targeting a spring completion date several months earlier than promised. However, Perthshire Chamber of Commerce which fronts the Better Broadband For Perthshire campaign said Virgin is merely targeting profitable city locations at the expense of businesses and communities in rural areas. The chamber which represents around 400 businesses across Perthshire has called for a meeting with Virgin to learn what provision the company has made to ensure rural businesses are not left in the slow lane. Chamber president Stephen Leckie said: ''While Virgin Media says it is helping propel Britain up the global broadband rankings, there is no doubt it is leaving many rural areas at the bottom of the league table as broadband backwaters. ''Businesses in rural Perthshire, like other parts of the country, are central to getting us out of these difficult economic times. ''It is ironic that a company with links to Sir Richard Branson is failing in its responsibilities to support the next generation of entrepreneurs.'' Campaign leaders met with BT Scotland last year to press the case for better broadband provision across Perthshire following the release of figures from watchdog Ofcom, showing superfast broadband is only available to 33% of users and Perth and Kinross ranks 120th out of 200 local authorities for fixed broadband connection. BT confirmed almost 16,400 homes and businesses in Perth are to benefit from superfast broadband by autumn this year, while Blairgowrie, Crieff and Kinross will have next-generation copper broadband by spring. Mr Leckie said: ''BT Scotland has recognised the need to provide this crucial business link in cities and in less populated areas. We will continue to press the issue to ensure that these promises are delivered. ''But we have been met with silence from Virgin Media. It should afford our wealth of first-class rural-based businesses the courtesy of far more than a second-class service and in many cases no service at all.'' He added: ''Without competitive high-speed links, our rural economy and its home-based businesses will wither and die. ''We need to secure the infrastructure to support our business future and everyone local council, businesses, politicians and individuals should be working together to ensure Perth and Kinross is as switched-on as anywhere else in the country.'' The Scottish Government wants to see all of Scotland gain access to next generation broadband by 2020, with progress made by 2015. Photo by Martin Keene/PA Wire
Scottish Government budget funds earmarked for superfast broadband should be targeted toward connecting rural firms and business parks, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Figures from Ofcom show that 72% of Scottish firms can access superfast broadband, compared to 83% of all Scottish premises and 81% of English firms. The regulator highlights that many Scottish firms are in rural areas or in business parks, places that, to-date, have not been targeted for network upgrades. In presenting his draft budget to the Scottish Parliament Cabinet Secretary Derek Mackay outlined plans to commit more than £100 million toward broadband and other digital infrastructure. Andy Willox, the FSB’s Scottish policy convener, said: “Availability of superfast broadband for smaller firms lags behind the overall population. This really isn’t good enough. “Three quarters of Scottish firms say that digital technologies are essential or important to their plans for growth. “To make the most of digital opportunities, firms need access to the right infrastructure and the right skills. “The Scottish Government should lay out plans to specifically target smaller firms in rural Scotland, alongside efforts to ensure that our business parks are fit for the modern age.” The Ofcom figures also show that 40% of Scotland’s landmass still doesn’t have a mobile data signal - 3G or 4G - and in a quarter of the country a mobile phone call can't be made. Consumers are unable to access mobile voice services from all four operators in approximately two thirds of Scotland’s landmass Mr Willox added: “These figures show that mobile coverage in Scotland is still unacceptably poor. “While we see the Scottish Government laying out plans to try to address this problem, the UK Government must step up. “The consequences of this problem are disappointed tourists, missed sales and poorer productivity.” FSB has written to the Scottish Government on their digital strategy calling for a better service to be delivered more quickly.
Thousands of BT internet users in Dundee could shortly have access to superfast broadband, after the council's development management committee voted 14 votes to 10 in favour of allowing the telecom company to construct "broadband cabinets" at three locations. The move means BT users with a standard internet connection will soon have the option to upgrade to superfast broadband. Despite this, West End councillor Fraser Macpherson voiced his disapproval at the size of the cabinets, which will sit on footpaths at Magdalen Green, West Park Road and Perth Road all within the city's conservation area. He called on fellow members to reject the proposal in a bid to put pressure on BT to come up with an alternate design that is more sympathetic to the protected and historic surroundings. Despite this, councillors went with the recommendation made by the city council and allowed the plans to go through. The cabinets have to be located as close as possible to the existing BT Openreach cabinet and power supply. It converts fibre optic cabling to copper cabling, which is then connected to the existing Openreach telecoms cabinet and into the surrounding properties and provides the necessary speed to support superfast broadband. Photo used under Creative Commons licence courtesy of Flickr user ell brown.