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The Scottish government has published a prior information notice (Pin) to start a procurement to deliver 100% superfast broadband access across Scotland, with roll-out to begin within the next 12 months.
The notice, published on Public Contracts Scotland, will provide information on the project and seek expressions of interest from potential suppliers.
The Scottish government aims to facilitate the deployment of broadband infrastructure capable of delivering speeds of over 30Mbps – 6Mbps faster than the UK government’s definition of superfast – to properties that will not receive such a service with existing or planned infrastructure by the end of 2021.
Fergus Ewing, Scottish government cabinet secretary for rural affairs and connectivity, said delivering 100% superfast broadband coverage in Scotland by the end of the next parliament was a priority for Holyrood.
“Enhanced digital connectivity will improve the productivity of businesses and help to build economic growth in remote and rural areas, transforming the prospects for those who live there,” he said.
“We are making good progress, having met our interim target of 85% for the whole of Scotland six months ahead of schedule, but there is more we need to do to ensure we achieve our digital ambitions. The publication of the Pin is the latest step in achieving that ambition and I would encourage all potential suppliers to get involved to help shape our approach.”
The procurement builds on Scotland’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB), which is run by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and the Scottish government in the rest of Scotland.
As of mid-August 2016, 86% or 2.2 million out of 2.6 million premises in Scotland had access to fibre broadband, 1% more than originally targeted, with 500,000 premises gaining access through DSSB contracts.
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The DSSB contracts have cost a total of £412m, including £146m for the Highlands and Islands and £226m to cover the rest of Scotland. The Scottish government contributed £165m of this total, with the rest coming from the UK government, the European Union and BT. The Scottish government also has £42m available to extend coverage outside the contracts.
The Scottish government said it reckoned there were 200,000 to 300,000 unserved premises still waiting to be addressed.
For a number of reasons, including European legislation on state aid, which will apply for at least as long as the UK remains a member of the EU, it is probable that these premises will eventually be split into a number of lots within multiple procurements.
This might encourage smaller network infrastructure and broadband suppliers, or altnets, to challenge BT for the new contracts.
Interested parties have until 30 September 2016 to respond to the initial consultation, and the procurement process is expected to begin in early 2017.