Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK for high-speed broadband

High-speed broadband in Scotland was supposed to be universal by now. Instead, it remains a postcode lottery.

Thursday, 16 May, 2024

The political theory that all third-term governments end in failure is currently being borne out by events in both Westminster and Holyrood.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish Government is buckling under the weight of endless policy reversals and missed deadlines, not least in terms of internet access.

Their pledge to deliver superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland by 2021 has literally and metaphorically been missed by a mile.

Today, almost 150,000 homes and businesses still lack the universal 35Mbps connections originally promised under the SNP’s R100 scheme.

A Freedom of Information request recently revealed 2028 is the latest proposed completion date, though there’s little confidence this deadline will be met, either.

The rest is geography

When the R100 scheme was first proposed in the SNP’s 2016 Holyrood Election manifesto, it sounded immensely ambitious.

If re-elected, the incumbent government promised to deliver connections of 35Mbps or more to every bothy, tenement and castle across a country three-fifths the size of England.

The scattered rural population across huge regions like Argyll and Bute posed a significant obstacle to progress, as did the existence of 94 inhabited offshore islands.

We’ve previously reported how the whole Shetland Islands was taken offline for a week when a subsea cable was cut by a fishing vessel, for the third time in a decade.

It’s also worth pointing out that the R100 scheme relied heavily on Openreach, the body responsible for much of the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure.

In 2022, Openreach installed gigabit-capable subsea cabling between the mainland and 16 islands, contributing to the 80 per cent of UK homes now able to receive 1Gbps internet speeds.

However, Openreach couldn’t hope to fully cable every Scottish island within five years of the 2016 manifesto pledge, even before the pandemic slowed infrastructure work to a crawl.

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow

There are now glaring disparities between the gigabit cables servicing the likes of Colonsay and Eigg, and the Orkney Islands, where the UK’s slowest average internet connections are found.

Some areas are geographically easier (or more cost-effective) to cable than others, though delivering broadband to an island is especially challenging.

Even on the Scottish mainland, there are vast disparities in line speeds.

The Highland village of Halkirk has average speeds of just 2.8Mbps, whereas Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire averages over 400Mbps.

There’s nothing remarkable about either of these locations, yet one has internet connectivity almost 150 times faster than the other.

This postcode lottery is especially unfair to residents of the sparsely populated Highlands, who will be among the last to receive the high-speed cabling they were promised years ago.

That’s me! What can I do about it?

If you’re reading this article over an ADSL connection, far from the ubiquitous high-speed broadband in Scotland’s Central Belt, there are a few alternatives to your existing landline.

The first is satellite broadband, which has latency levels unsuitable for gaming but is becoming increasingly cost-effective in the age of Starlink and OneWeb.

Mobile connectivity is another option for high-speed broadband in Scotland, with 4G or 5G signals often extending across the fibre-less valleys below transmitter towers.

Ofcom recently reported that 92 per cent of UK premises now receive outdoor 5G signals.

Mobile dongles and MiFi hubs can power individual devices or local wireless networks respectively.

If neighbours are also tired of sluggish download speeds, Openreach’s Fibre Community Partnership scheme helps to reduce per-household cost through collective investment.

Finally, investigate whether local altnets will be creating parallel fibre networks in your community over the coming years.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!