Is it just Aberdeenshire?
- No. Across the UK, Ofcom reckons that 5% of homes and offices – a total of 1.4 million premises – cannot receive the minimum standard of 10MB broadband. In Aberdeenshire more than 10% of premises struggle with broadband speeds below 2MB – one fifth of the recommended minimum.
What's the problem?
- In the midst of the hype around the launch of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, there was a lot of emphasis on bringing superfast broadband to rural communities, that might not otherwise be served on purely commercial terms.
- The expectation was that the £157 million of public money being poured into the scheme was to "level the playing field" and ensure that those of us who live outside the main towns would also have access to superfast broadband.
- We waited to see the trucks with optical fibre cable rolling out across the country to deliver fibre broadband to connection boxes close to communities or groups of houses.
- It now transpires there was never any intention to replace the copper cable local network with fibre. As such – and knowing that beyond 1,200 metres from the fibre connection that the copper-cable losses would negate the fibre benefit – it must have been known that there was little chance of the programme providing superfast broadband to rural communities.
- Our house is about 2km from the fibre connection box located outside the exchange in the Aberdeenshire town of Kintore. Our line, upgraded as part of the DSSB programme, is no faster than it was before as an 'exchange only' line directly connected to the exchange.
- On a good day, our best speed is 5MB download – half the recommended minimum speed for UK households. Just over a kilometre away, in Kintore, householders are enjoying speeds ten times faster up to 70MB. Nearby, some of our neighbours get 0.5MB – 140 times slower than the speeds just over a mile away in Kintore.
- The reality of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme is that the "digital divide" between urban and rural subscribers has not been narrowed, as promised. In fact it has widened.
What happens now?
- There is assistance, in the form of subsidised satellite broadband, for those whose broadband service is not capable of delivering 2MB. But, for those of us between 2MB and 5MB there appears to be no help and little sympathy from the authorities.
- In our particular case we enquired about a Fibre Partnership. That's where householders get together and carry out much of the leg work (getting approval for wayleaves and other local permissions) and cost for contractors, while the operator provides expertise. We were turned down because our area is being considered for an enhanced scheme, which means we may get better broadband... possibly... some time... some speed... No-one can tell us.
10Mb Universal Service Obligation may cost users
- BT has said it will take on the challenge to deliver the government's 10Mb Universal Service Obligation (USO), meaning that all properties in Britain should be offered at least a 10Mb broadband service by 2020. This is still less than half the speed of "superfast" broadband.
- What has not been made clear, is whether the property owners will have to fund the infrastructure to deliver the USO broadband. BT have refused to be drawn on the subject. But, some authorities on the subject have suggested that the cost of delivering the USO broadband could amount to thousands of pounds for some properties.