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

The Prime Minister sparked a row between the Conservatives and the SNP over Scotland’s broadband expansion.

After Tory MP Luke Graham questioned the Scottish Government’s progress in rolling out superfast internet, Theresa May claimed that Holyrood should use its devolved powers to improve conditions.

Ferret Fact Service | Scotlands impartial fact check project

This was disputed by the SNP’s Fergus Ewing, who argued that broadband was reserved to Westminster, but Scotland “has had to intervene”.

But who was right? Ferret Fact Service looked at the Prime Minister’s claim and found it Mostly False.

Evidence

Making superfast fibre broadband available to everyone has been a priority for the Scottish and UK Government in recent years.

The UK Government defines ‘superfast’ as 24 megabits per second (Mbps) or more, however Ofcom and the European Union consider 30Mbps to be the benchmark.

There are three phases to the government’s plan for superfast broadband roll-out across the UK, with the aim of providing universal coverage.

In his question to the Prime Minister, Conservative MP Luke Graham cited figures from a 2016 Ofcom report which showed Scotland had the lowest proportion of superfast broadband of the UK nations, with 83 per cent of properties covered, compared to 90 per cent across the UK.

However these figures appear to be now out-of-date, with independent broadband website Think Broadband showing 91.8 per cent of Scotland now having access to speeds of 24Mbps.

Scotland has unique difficulties in rolling out coverage 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]”.

The crux of the debate here is where the power lies over broadband expansion.

The Scotland Act in 1998 set out the Scottish Parliament’s reserved and devolved powers. The list of powers for Scotland has been added to since then.

Internet and wireless technology, including broadband, has remained under the control of Westminster.

However, the Scottish Government does have power over how UK funding for broadband is used, and may provide additional financial support.

The UK government gives Scotland responsibility over managing individual broadband initiatives, such as the Highlands and Islands roll-out, and allocating funds.

This means the Scottish Government leads the roll-out in Scotland, but wider funding and regulation of broadband services remains in the hands of the UK government. Scotland has no power over the regulation of the broadband market itself, which is controlled by Ofcom.

The Scottish Government aimed to provide fibre broadband infrastructure to around 85 per cent of Scotland by the end of 2015 and 95 per cent by March 2018.

In early 2016, John Swinney reported to MSPs that the 85 per cent target was met six months early. The 95 per cent target was on track to be met by the end of 2017, but not every household will be able to receive the UK definition of superfast speed (24 Mbps).

The SNP included a pledge to reach 100 per cent access to superfast broadband in its 2016 Scottish Parliament election manifesto.

The Scottish Government has so far broadly succeeded in its targets on introducing fibre broadband, and it is clear that while it may fund broadband projects and lead on the roll-out programme in Scotland, the power to legislate on broadband generally remains at Westminster.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly False

Theresa May’s claim that Scotland should use its powers to improve broadband services is misleading. While the Scottish Government 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.

This claim is Mostly False

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network. 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.

Photo thanks to Tmthetom, CC BY-SA 4.0

https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/05a49b08-c537-46fc-9eb7-5a819df4ba1a

Correction: An earlier version of this fact-check mentioned that the Scottish Government aimed to provide superfast broadband to around 85 per cent by 2015. The aim was actually to provide fibre broadband, which will not universally reach the ‘superfast’ threshold.

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