Drive to broadband-enable Scotland is launched

Scotland is lagging behind the rest of Broadband Britain, but a massive new public sector contract may soon change that

The Scottish Executive is inviting telecoms operators to bid for a contract to provide high-speed Internet services to Scotland's broadband black spots.

The contract, which will run for five years, is to provide affordable broadband services to parts of Scotland where commercial broadband services are not being made available.

Broadband availability is much poorer in Scotland than in the rest of Britain. BT has calculated that it isn't economically viable to broadband-enable around 400 of Scotland's local telephone exchanges, and NTL and Telewest have no public plans to extend their own high-speed networks.

Faced with this reluctance from the private sector to make broadband more widely available in Scotland, the Executive has decided that public subsidy is the way forward.

"The underlying objective of this project is to prevent the creation of a broadband digital divide in Scotland between communities and businesses which can get affordable access to broadband services and those which cannot. Hence the principal rationales for intervention are to promote social equity and economic development," said the Executive in its tender.

BT has indicated that it is highly likely to bid for the contract.

"We're taking a very close look at the tender," said BT spokeswoman Anna Steven.

It's likely that the winning bid for the contract will cost the Scottish Executive several million pounds. BT has said in the past that it can cost up to £500,000 to upgrade a single local exchange to support ADSL. Wireless is likely to play a key role in closing Scotland's broadband divide.

"The geographical challenges of Scotland are such that there will always need to be a mix of broadband technologies to cover the whole area," Steven explained.

The issues that are holding up the rollout of broadband in Scotland are due to be examined this November at a conference organised by the Access to Broadband Campaign.

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