No ‘silver bullet” for fibre roll-out in Scotland

Fibre strandsThere is no “silver bullet” that can solve the issue of delivering next generation broadband (NGB) to rural parts of the UK, a conference was told last week.

More than 170 delegates attended the NextGen roadshow in Edinburgh for a day-long discussion about the future of NGB in Scotland.

Supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) and ICT industry trade body ScotlandIS, delegates heard how NGB is vital to Scotland’s future.

It was recognised that bringing much faster speeds to homes and businesses would expand the scope and choice of services available, particularly in areas such as health provision, education, entertainment and business services.

But delivering NGB, with service competition and choice, to a largely rural population is technically hard while also being commercially challenging. One idea discussed revolved around the idea of installing “digital village pumps” in rural areas. These mini-datacentres – owned and funded by the local community or possibly subsidised - are connected to a broadband connection to provide fast services. But, at the end of the day, pumps without services running on them are not the end to end solution.

Elsewhere, there was open recognition that community networks are not easy to create, sustain or support in a commercially viable way. During one discussion delegates heard of a number of challenges.

According to Brendan Dick, BT Scotland director, who attended the event: “The message this generated, in discussion, was clear; for Scottish communities, doing their own thing and going it alone is not that sensible if you can avoid it.”

He went on: “The recognition that there is no ‘silver bullet’ for rolling out NGB to the final third is to be welcomed. It shows that all stakeholders understand the difficulties in delivering fibre to areas that are remote and sparsely populated.

“The only way we are going to give the people of Scotland what they want is for all stakeholders to    work in partnership to solve these issues together,” he said.

The NextGen event is Edinburgh is the first of four roadshows to be held during 2011. The next one is in Kent on 20th May.