Scottish broadband take-up rate lower than in UK, says Ofcom report

<em>Picture: BeauGiles</em>
Picture: BeauGiles
Scotland’s digital divide is growing wider, with broadband take-up lagging behind the rest of the UK. The Ofcom Communications Market Report: Scotland says that only 61 per cent of homes have broadband, 13 per cent less than the UK average. It means that Scotland continues to have the lowest broadband take-up of all the UK nations.

The use of broadband is particularly low in Greater Glasgow, where only 50 per cent of homes have it installed. The report points out that this part of Scotland has a relatively high proportion of low-income homes, which goes some way to explaining why the take-up is so low. It says that households with incomes lower than £17,500 per annum have one of the lowest take-up rates at just 26 per cent. It is also low among those aged 55 and over – 34 per cent – and in social groups D and E, where it remains at 30 per cent.

The report says that Scotland was the only UK nation to experience a decrease in satisfaction with broadband speeds – 73 per cent in 2010 compared with 83 per cent in 2009 – but not all the findings are negative. Broadband usage among 35–54 year olds in Scotland compares well against the UK average with 85 per cent in Scotland, as against the UK average of 83 per cent.

“Despite increasingly sophisticated broadband packages available to more and more Scots,” says Vicki Nash, director of Ofcom Scotland, “we are less likely than the rest of the UK to take up broadband. With an ever-increasing range of public services available online and the importance of the digital economy, there is a risk of Scotland being left behind.”

However, it may be that some Scots are ignoring access by fixed wire and moving straight to using the mobile internet. There has been an increase in the use of mobile broadband, with almost one in ten households in Scotland having access to a laptop or PC with a broadband dongle.

One-fifth of adults with a mobile phone in Scotland now have a smartphone. That’s well below the UK average of 30 per cent, but still represents rapid adoption of a technology that has only been widely available to consumers for the last two-to-three years.

Part of the problem may be the relatively poor quality of mobile coverage. The report points to the challenges of geography and low population density, which result in Scotland having lower 2G mobile coverage than the UK average. However, 3G coverage in Scotland is higher than in Wales and Northern Ireland, with 84 per cent of the population receiving a signal from at least one operator.

The report deals with wider issues than just broadband and mobile phones. It also looks at the use of broadcasting services, and points out that the take-up of digital television – which stands at 97 per cent of TV homes in Scotland – has increased by 6 per cent since last year. This high level of adoption by Scots is linked to the digital switchover process which was underway at the time of Ofcom’s research.

TV viewing remains high in Scotland, at an average of four-and-a-half viewing hours per day, compared to a UK average of four hours. And despite the low broadband uptake, watching TV over the internet has increased in Scotland by 7 per cent to 35 per cent (from 28 per cent in 2010). This reflects Scotland’s traditionally high levels of TV watching now transferring to the online platform.

There is evidence of increased network TV production in Scotland. First-run network productions accounted for 4.6 per cent of UK expenditure, up from 3.6 per cent of total expenditure in 2009. In terms of volume of TV programming, producers in Scotland delivered 4.6 per cent of all first-run hours during 2010, up from 3.3 per cent 12 months earlier (and up from 1.6 per cent in 2006).

Scots also appear to be more trusting when it comes to television but more suspicious with the internet. Adults here are more likely than those in the UK as a whole to say they trust TV news output (68 per cent compared with 54 per cent). However, internet users in Scotland are less likely to provide their personal email address, their home address or their home phone number than they were last year.

Ofcom has also published its annual Communications Market Report for the UK, which reveals the extent to which the UK has become addicted to smartphones, with people confessing to using them everywhere from the dining table to the bathroom and bedroom.

Over a quarter of adults (27 per cent) and almost half of teenagers (47 per cent) now own a smartphone, according to the latest Ofcom report. Most (59 per cent) have acquired their smartphone – which includes devices such as iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android phones – over the past year.

Users make significantly more calls and send more texts than regular mobile users (81 per cent of smartphone users make calls every day, compared with 53 per cent of “regular” users). Teenagers especially are ditching more traditional activities in favour of their smartphone, with 23 per cent claiming to watch less TV and 15 per cent admitting to reading fewer books. And when asked about the use of these devices, 37 per cent of adults and 60 per cent of teens admit they are “highly addicted”.

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