domingo, 5 de agosto de 2018

Scotland: a world class digital nation?

We analyze the Scottish broadband case, in collaboration with Nicole Conner. The United Kingdom has been involved in the internet since its origins till Broadband Society, with the idea of wide area networking linking back to work done in computer science laboratories around the country, which in turn helped influence work carried out in both the US and other European nations. 

We can credit the World Wide Web to a British man, Tim Berners-Lee, who came up with the idea of hypertext, to allow researchers to share and update information. This was the first steps in the internet we know now, where we can use browsers and setup web servers. The internet has come a long way since this first creation. 

Internet access is now a global phenomenon which most of us take for granted, however this was not always the case. Scotland’s first internet connection came in the form of dial up internet, which requires no forms of infrastructure other than the technology needed to make and receive phone calls. The phone lines were already available in most Scottish homes, and so this became the best way for them to access the internet. Although it was far from ideal, and soon became problematic, it was a huge step forward in the age of digital technology.

This first internet access was provided to the UK by Pipex in 1992, and they became the first commercial provider to make the internet more accessible to ordinary homes. One of their first customers were Demon Internet, a company once owned by Scottish Power, who made the modem based internet popular within the UK.

However, it soon became apparent that dial up internet connection was not the most effective method. As dial up connection operates on a single channel, to connect to the internet you had to unplug the main landline telephone in the household, thus when someone was using the computer, calls could not be made or received and vice versa. As well as this, it was also incredibly slow, with average speeds operating at 56 Kbps.

With the internet becoming increasingly popular, it was clear this method of internet could not sustain the growing demands of the technological population and so the change was made to broadband. The first broadband connections began to be installed in Scotland in the early 2000’s, which helped rejuvenate the slow methods of dial up connection by splitting the line between phone and internet meaning faster connections and download times.

The internet connection was originally provided by many cable television companies, and the development of digital subscriber line technology meant broadband could travel through the traditional copper telephone lines. These two technologies now also compete with wireless broadband, however due to the remoteness of some areas in Scotland, this is not always an option.

The availability of broadband across Scotland has become widespread since those early years, and is estimated that it now reaches approximately 97% of the population, however the reach of the broadband across the highlands is still problematic today.

In 2004, the Scottish government had to set a goal of providing affordable broadband speeds to all communities across the country, as there was still a great number of the population who lived too far away from the nearest broadband or ADSL (asymmetric distance subscriber line) meaning the telephone signal is so weak it would not provide internet access. These geographical difficulties mean that broadband is still widely unavailable causing the rural communities to lag behind their urban counterparts. BT was awarded this contract, and by the end of 2005 they successfully managed to bring broadband to every Scottish community and upgrade the 378 non-commercial telephone exchange areas.  

At the end of 2016, communications regulator ofcom reported that over 25.3 million homes across the UK now had fixed broadband connections, however these figures bear no indication to the level of speeds which these households have.

Furthermore, despite the UK being a technically advanced country, we are still seeing that the internet speed is less than expected. Figures from show that out of 40 countries across the globe, the UK as a whole comes in 31st, and when you compare the local authorities within Britain as a whole, we can see that many areas in Scotland are left with substandard internet access. The consumer group which looked at broadband speeds across 389 areas in the UK, and alarming figures showed that Orkney, Shetland and Highlands fell short of the UK government's minimum broadband speed of 10Mbps, landing themselves in the top 5 worst areas for broadband speeds.

Despite these figures of low broadband speeds, according to a study carried out by the International Telecommunications Union in 2011, almost 95% of the population across the UK were active internet users, a staggering amount which shows just how important internet use has become in the daily lives of ordinary people, not to mention businesses and international relations.

A whole host of broadband providers are available to consumers in the UK, and many are competing to try and give the nation the best deals. Cable broadband is also available in the UK, with the main provider being Virgin Media. This uses fibre optic cables and currently offers maximum speeds of 300 Mbps.

Many of the telephone providers are also offering consumers broadband packages, for example TalkTalk and Orange have began to offer customers ‘free’ broadband if they went to those providers for various telephone packages.

The Scottish Government has now introduced a new initiative, aiming to deliver fibre broadband access to around 95% of Scotland by the end of March 2018. The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme achieved its target of 85% in 2016, providing fast internet to over 700,00 businesses and homes, having created a fibre spine that will be long lasting and ensure fixed mobile connectivity.

The overall cost of the project is estimated to be around £410 million, with funding coming from both the Scottish Government and the UK Government. This additional funding will specifically help to boost fibre broadband coverage and performance in areas such as Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders and Stirling. Around 5% of Scotland will not be part of the project to roll out the new fibre broadband due to budget constraints and technical challenges, such as creating the lines of communication to the more remote areas of Scotland. However, the Scottish Government recently launched the ‘Reaching 100% programme’ and this will aim to make superfast broadband available to every area of the country by 2021. 

Moreover, the Scottish government are aiming to make the country a ‘world class digital nation’ by 2020, with Derek MacKay, Scotland’s Cabinet Minister, saying that they are aiming to achieve speeds of 100Mbps and 1Gbps - however, as the internet is constantly upgrading these figures are obviously subject to change, and will be in keeping with the fastest speeds at any given point in the future. They are striving to use this to boost economic growth, and subsequently helping boost city, rural and island communities and lifestylesIn conclusion, Scotland is dependent on the internet for a whole number of reasons, however work could be done to improve the quality received by all to help the nation reach its full internet potential. It is mostly problematic that some areas are still not able to fully access modern technology despite being a technically advanced nation, as geographical obstacles often stand in the way. However, as the government has implemented targets to change this - and we have seen many targets being met with success in recent years - we can only hope to see improvements in the future.
We analyze international broadband evolution (here, the Scottish case) in this blog, in Research Group about Digital Journalism and Marketing and Broadband and in Research Group on Innovative Monetization Systems of Digital Journalism, Marketing and Tourism (SIMPED), from CECABLE,  Escola Universitària Mediterrani of UdGUPF and Blanquerna-URL, in Twitter (@CECABLEresearch), Google+, in the group of LinkedIn, in the page of LinkedIn, in the group of Facebook, in Instagram (CECABLE), in Pinterest and in this blog. We will go in deep in the XXIV Cable and Broadband Catalonia Congress (9-10 April 2019, Barcelona).

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