R100: Moving (slowly) towards superfast broadband

Reading Time: 5 minutes

SPICe previously published a blog (September 2019) looking at plans to deliver superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland by 2021, under the R100 programme. This blog looks at recent developments around the R100 programme.

The overall R100 programme has three elements. Firstly, there is the procurement element that the Scottish Government has committed £600 million to deliver. Secondly, there is the commercial build aspect. And finally, an aligned interventions programme, via a voucher scheme. It is intended that all three elements combined will deliver superfast broadband to every home and business in Scotland.

Presently, around 94% of premises across Scotland can access superfast broadband (defined as faster than 30 Megabits per second (Mbps)). And around 8% of Scotland can access fixed gigabit-capable “full fibre” networks.


Source: Think Broadband 

South and central Scotland R100 procurement

R100’s procurement was split across three regional lots (north, central and south). The challenges experienced during the procurement process caused time delays, which are discussed in our previous blog. In January 2020, we finally got confirmation from the Scottish Government that R100 would not meet its original target of delivering superfast broadband to all by the end of 2021. But instead the majority of the build will be completed by the end of 2023 for central Scotland and summer 2024 for the south lot. The north lot has further complications, which are discussed below.

However, with this bad news came the good news that all of the planned R100 build in the south of Scotland and the vast majority of the R100 build in central Scotland will now use full-fibre or fibre-to-the-premises technology. It is intended that this will provide access to gigabit-capable speeds of 1,000Mpbs, rather than the original 30Mbps target.

R100 lots by Scottish Parliamentary Region

Scottish Parliamentary Region
Central Scotland


Highlands and Islands


Mid Scotland and Fife

North East Scotland

South Scotland

West Scotland

Source: Scottish Government. A full list by Scottish Parliamentary Constituency can be accessed from this Parliamentary Constituency and Region list.

North Scotland R100 procurement

While there has been progress in the south and central lots, advancement of the north lot has paused. In terms of Scottish Parliamentary regions this impacts the Highlands and Islands, North East Scotland, and some parts of both West Scotland and Mid Scotland and Fife. The contract award for the north lot, to which the Scottish Government has committed £384 million, is now subject to a legal challenge from Gigaclear Ltd (one of the bidders for the north lot contract).

Until that challenge is heard and resolved, the Scottish Government is unable to award the contract as planned. The litigation process also restricts the Government from providing any further information or comment on the north lot. In the meantime, customers in the north lot area will be able to access the voucher scheme (discussed below) when it launches.

Alternative means, aligned intervention, and voucher scheme

Since the R100 programme was announced in late 2017, the need for an aligned intervention to connect premises that are beyond the reach of R100 contracts and commercial deployment was flagged. Premises beyond reach include those in geographically remote locations and too far away from exchanges and cabinets.  The Scottish Government confirmed in January 2020 that the aligned intervention will be delivered through a voucher scheme. It is intended the voucher scheme will launch later this year (2020) and will provide grants to broadband customers in non-domestic and domestic premises, offering support to access a range of technologies and suppliers.

Furthermore, anyone who is unable to access superfast broadband through the R100 programme by the end of 2021, even if R100 will ultimately reach them, will also be eligible for the voucher scheme.

There are existing broadband voucher schemes run by the UK Government (e.g. Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme). The Scottish Government has indicated that it is hoping to work with UK ministers and officials to join up their respective funding pots and processes, in order to deliver a more streamlined and effective solution to benefit people, businesses and communities.

Who will be eligible for R100?

It is a legal requirement under state aid legislation that government broadband funding can only be invested in areas of market failure (i.e. areas with no commercial delivery plans). When R100 was originally announced around 180,000 premises across Scotland were deemed eligible for intervention. However, over two years have passed since and, in many regions, commercial suppliers have gone further than was originally anticipated, which has reduced the number of premises that require public investment.

We are told that modelling work is currently underway to reflect commercial deployment changes to estimate a new number of eligible premises. Early indications suggest around 150,000 premises are now eligible, The Scottish Government has pledged to launch an online checker with this updated information in summer 2020. The online checker that will allow Scottish residents to check their premises to see:

  • whether and when they are getting the R100 intervention
  • whether and when they are getting a commercial deployment
  • or they will be shown their eligibility for aligned interventions.

How much will R100 cost?

As yet, given the information made available by the Scottish Government, it is not possible to provide an estimate of the total R100 programme investment.

  • The procurement element of R100 will cost £600 million over the now extended delivery period (£384m north, £83m central, £133m south).
  • There is limited information in the public domain on the commercial build element of the R100 programme. One known aspect comes from the Minister for Energy, Connectivity, and the Islands telling the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that BT will be investing approximately £34 million in the commercial elements of the south and central contracts.
  • There are no figures available on what the aligned intervention voucher scheme will cost. The Scottish Government would like this element to be ‘funded appropriately’ by both the UK and Scottish Governments. Details of how the UK Government £5 billion broadband announcement will impact Scotland are still unknown. The Minister for Connectivity told the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that indicative figures for the aligned intervention voucher scheme had been prepared and would be included in the soon to be announced budget 2020-21. It has been previously indicated by the Minister that the voucher scheme will not be capped. This could have implications for budget planning if demand is high.

As already highlighted, anyone who is unable to access superfast broadband through the R100 programme by the end of 2021, even if R100 will ultimately reach them, will also be eligible for the voucher scheme. This means that some premises will receive two interventions and poses questions about cost efficiency and value for money.

Given the scale of intervention proposed across the three elements of the R100 programme, assessing overall value for money will be an important aspect of R100 scrutiny to ensure the optimal use of resources to achieve superfast broadband coverage for all. Taking the four Es:

  • economy – whether R100 has minimised the cost of resources used
  • efficiency – the relationship between access to superfast broadband and the resources used to deliver it (spending well)
  • effectiveness – the relationship between the intended and actual results of R100 roll-out (spending wisely)
  • equity – the extent to which superfast broadband reaches all people that R100 intends (spending fairly).

It should be noted that scrutiny of broadband delivery is complicated by the fact that legal and regulatory responsibility for telecoms in the UK rests solely with the UK Parliament and UK Ministers. The Scottish Government are using economic development powers to subsidise broadband delivery through R100.

Feature image “Internet Speed” by Infosec Images is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Alison O’Connor, Senior Analyst, Financial Scrutiny Unit