Broadband remains a talking point in Scotland, with the SNP comparing the state of superfast internet in Scotland to the rest of the UK.

We recently fact checked the Prime Minister’s misleading claim that the Scottish Government is responsible for broadband provision, after Tory MP Luke Graham questioned the Scottish Government’s progress in rolling out superfast internet.

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A graphic was subsequently retweeted by the SNP on Twitter which claims that Scotland is leading the way in its rollout of superfast broadband in rural areas, compared to the rest of the UK.

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it to be Mostly True.

Evidence

Ofcom defines superfast broadband as 30Mbps download speed minimum in line with the European Union, while the UK Government’s threshold is 24 Mbps.

The source of the SNP’s claim is found in Ofcom’s 2016 Connected Nations report which shows Scotland’s 46 per cent approximate year-on-year increase from 2015 to 2016. This compares to 38 per cent in England, 29 per cent in Northern Ireland and 5 per cent in Wales.

The claim is accurate, but lacks important context about overall broadband provision compared to the UK.

While Scotland did have the largest increase of superfast broadband provision in rural areas from 2015 to 2016 compared to the UK’s other nations, it still lagged behind each individual nation in terms of availability.

In 2016, superfast internet was available to 46 per cent of Scotland’s rural areas compared to 59 per cent in the UK as a whole. The figure for Northern Ireland was 52 per cent, 57 per cent for Wales, and 62 per cent for England.

In November 2017, Think Broadband – the UK’s largest independent broadband news source – released its latest stats for rural and urban superfast broadband coverage in Scotland. These figures show the increase in rural superfast broadband availability over recent years.

As of 27 November 2017, 72.1 per cent of accessible rural premises had access to superfast internet, compared to 60.6 per cent of remote rural premises, and 54.4 per cent of very remote rural premises.

Ofcom’s 2017 Connected Nations report, which includes the latest comparable figures to those used by the SNP, shows calculations of superfast broadband available to premises within each nation as a whole, rather than rural areas in isolation. It also does not include approximate year-on-year availability increases, so it is not possible to compare the 2017 Ofcom data with 2016 figures.

With superfast broadband coverage at 87 per cent, Scotland was still behind the UK average of 91 per cent. Scotland was ahead of only Northern Ireland, which was on 85 per cent. The figure for Wales was 89 per cent, while for England it was 92 per cent.

Think Broadband’s latest stats, up to 7 Feb 2018, show superfast broadband availability to the UK’s nations is fairly even, except for Northern Ireland which is around nine points behind the UK average.

Ofcom’s 2017 report also highlights the UK’s urban-rural divide in terms of access to “decent” broadband services, which are capable of a providing a download speed of at least 10Mbps, and an upload speed of at least 1Mbps.

Ofcom estimates that 17 per cent of UK premises in rural areas cannot receive decent broadband services, compared to just two per cent in urban areas. The watchdog highlights that “this urban-rural divide is particularly stark in Northern Ireland and Scotland.”

In Northern Ireland, 23 per cent of rural properties cannot get decent broadband, compared with one per cent in urban areas.

In Scotland, 27 per cent of rural properties have no access to decent broadband, compared to two per cent in urban areas.

Theresa May’s claim Scotland has broadband powers is Mostly False

Scotland has unique difficulties in providing broadband to rural areas, with BT stating that the country has the “most significant geographic challenges in the UK, and arguably in Europe, when it comes to deploying fibre [broadband]”.

Ultimate broadband responsibility lies with the UK Government. While Holyrood has some measure of control over broadband projects, telecommunications including broadband infrastructure are ultimately still reserved by Westminster, limiting the level of decision-making available to Scottish ministers.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True

The SNP’s claim that Scotland had a higher increase in superfast broadband in rural areas than any other UK nation is accurate. However, while the statistics show Scotland is improving faster than the rest of the UK, it still lags behind regarding coverage in rural areas.

Mostly True

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Want to suggest a fact check? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

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Contributions

  1. When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that these claims are “Partly true, partly bollocks”. Whilst it is true that Telecoms policy is reserved to Westminster, by adhering to the BDUK process and policies (which is another disastrous story), the Scottish Government and local Councils have been able to put additional funds into broadband rollout. Which is where it goes pear-shaped: DSSB (the Scotgov program aimed at giving public money to BT) has rolled out almost entirely FTTC, a range-limited technology which is a) not upgradeable in the future and b) simply doesn’t reach most rural premises. That is then compounded by BT’s counting service delivery by a) postcode area (which is utterly fatuous in rural Scotland) and b) counting the number of premises PASSED, not SERVED - which is NOT the same thing - many properties that are Passed by the BT service are most definitely not Served by it. Then you have that paragon of obstruction and incompetence, Community Broadband Scotland, whose egregious bureaucracy, broken promises and active blocking have caused multiple local broadband projects to either fail or waste years of effort futilely trying to get started. CBS took three years to spend £4.4M of a £16M budget, to deliver wireless broadband to around 1100 premises, at a speed typically of 4Mb/s. A large proportion of that money has gone on internal costs and low-grade consultants rather than to projects. That’s around £4000/property served, which is utterly ridiculous, when a number of the projects CBS that has failed were planning to deliver either high-speed wireless (>30Mb/s) or FTTP (1Gb/s) to properties at an average cost of typically between £2,500 and £3,500 per property.

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