Scottish broadband take-up

Scottish broadband take-up is the second highest in the UK at 53 %, behind England at 58 %, marginally ahead of Northern Ireland (52%) and significantly higher than Wales (45%).

Although low by comparison to other countries, this figure accurately reflects Scotland’s low population density in many areas. This is in no small part due to the previous Scottish Executive’s decision to try and push Scotland’s rural broadband infrastructure across to the remote Highlands and islands – a move which would have not been economically viable if left to market forces. Without that Scotland would probably have a broadband take-up comparable to Wales.

Due to the rural broadband push, around two-thirds (67%) of Scotland is connected to an unbundled exchange. This compares with a figure of 84% in England.

Thus the SNP have argued for a final push for broadband connectivity for exchanges. They managed to secure a £3.4 million grant from the European Union to begin this task in April 2008.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes commented: “I am pleased to endorse public funding that will allow residential and business users in Scotland, who still do not have access to affordable broadband services, to reap the full benefits of the knowledge-based economy.”

Hopefully with this initiative, broadband will reach Scotland’s remotest communities.

The effort taken by the previous Executive and the new Scottish Government means that the Highlands and Island have a broadband take-up at 62%; higher than the average broadband takeup in England. In rural areas of Scotland overall, the figure (59%) was comparable to England’s average.

The main cities of Scotland:- Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow showed variation. Three: Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh had take-up rates of 62 – 64 %. Glasgow showed a take-up rate of only 32 % – that is a rate only slighly better than the Czech Republic (30 %) and other Eastern European countries in the recent ITIF report.

The Ofcom report explains the discrepancy by pointing out that only 44 % of Glasgow households own a laptop or PC, compared to a Scottish average of 64 %, and by low household incomes.

The Glasgow figure does not look like catching up with the rest of Scotland. Of those who do not have broadband in urban Scotland (48 % of the population) only 15 % said they were certain or fairly likely to get broadband in 2009. That would raise the Scottish urban take-up from 52 % in 2008 to 59 % in 2009.

If the same 15 % figure was applied to Glasgow its take-up would rise to 42 %, pretty much everyone who currently owns a PC in the city – so I’d suggest that the 15 % figure would be lower in Glasgow too. I don’t think we’ll see a glut of people in Glasgow buying PCs next year so that the 42 % will be reached.

We can see from this the low take-up rate in Glasgow is skewing Scotland’s broadband figures as a whole.

Take out the Glasgow figures and the Scottish broadband take-up rate would be about 62 %.

That is higher than anywhere else in the UK, and higher than Australia, and beginning to catch on Canada.

Its clear that Glasgow’s Eastern European-like broadband take-up rate is affecting our country.

Perhaps it’s not only the rural broadband push that we need to consider. Would the European Union give a grant for Glasgow?

That’s a sobering thought since Glasgow is hosting a major sporting event in 2014.

Lets look at the World leader in Broadband take-up, South Korea (93 %). Perhaps they can teach us lessons.

South Korea has put broadband in every residential and office block in the country. Large residential and office blocks have had fibre connections since 1997.

The speed of the broadband connections remain the fastest in the world. That has meant that the online gaming industry has exploded in growth in South Korea. Many gamers from around the world have settled in the country for that reason.

With this broadband backbone, South Korea is now the 13th richest country in the world by GDP. Its economy is the 4th largest in Asia.

At the start of the 21st century, the South Korean Government began a National IT project. It is now the world’s leading IT nation. It now has plans to become the world leader in robotics, and seeks to put a robot in every South Korean home by 2020.

By comparison Glasgow’s plans; putting wifi in Glasgow’s Underground trains and regular trains to Edinburgh – are just tinkering around the edges.

Until radical policies address the social problems of Glasgow, and housing is built with broadband as standard; Scotland will continue to lag on the IT superhighway hard shoulder.

The song was ‘Glasgow belongs to me.’ Without Broadband to open up the world’s possibilities that’s all a Glaswegian will get.

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