More than 60 small towns and villages in Scotland at risk of being left behind in the internet revolution are to get next-generation full-fibre broadband over the next three years.

The communities join over 200 in other parts of the UK which have suffered from poor internet service because providers have been slow to build faster networks due to prohibitive costs and low economic returns.

A study in December revealed that nearly half of the constituencies in Scotland have poor mobile phone signals and broadband connection due to a substandard technology network.

According to the analysis, of 269 areas in the UK with the worst mobile and broadband service, 29 were in Scotland – amounting to around half of all the parliamentary constituencies in the country.

BT subsidiary Openreach, has now outlined the £12 billion plans to make ultra-reliable and gigabit-capable full-fibre broadband available to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in 60 small and rural towns and villages across Scotland.

But Openreach chief executive Clive Selley says ministers must move ahead with their £5bn pledge to bring it to all parts of the UK. The Treasury had promised a £5bn fund to make sure the hardest to reach 20% of the country was not left out.

Openreach said the new locations including Aviemore, Campbeltown, Cumnock, Dunbar, Kilsyth, Peebles and Thurso, will be upgraded "without taxpayer subsidy", and it said it hoped having access to some of the fastest broadband speeds in Europe will boost their post-Covid economic recovery.

But it is understood plans to reach the most remote places await details of how the government plans to allocate the £5bn fund.

Communications regulator Ofcom proposals put out for consultation earlier in the year would allow Openreach to recover investments costs "through its wholesale prices (what BT charges rival retail providers who use its network)...reducing the risk of its investment".

But Ofcom says that its proposals also mean that wholesale prices for its entry-level, superfast broadband service up to 40mbps would be capped to inflation.

Asked if this would lead to higher consumer prices, Openreach said that it was a matter for internet service providers and it would be "premature to speculate" on what would happen.

Four years ago BT was sharply criticised for receiving £1.7bn in taxpayer cash to roll out broadband in rural areas it claimed would otherwise be neglected, after take-up was far higher than expected.

HeraldScotland:

The telecoms giant was to return at least £258m to the public purse. It had received subsidies to build broadband networks in some of Britain's most remote areas. But many proved more profitable than first thought.

Nearly four million homes across the country received superfast internet connections from BT when the six-year Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) subsidy scheme began in 2010.

Work is now expected to get under way in many of the announced locations within the next 12-18 months although, due to the size of the build, some places will see work continue into 2024.

Openreach, which has been criticised for failing to invest quickly enough and sticking with a copper network for too long said the new Scottish locations are part of a wider announcement to make the new technology available to a further 3.2 million premises.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s partnership director for Scotland, said: “We’ve already upgraded hundreds of thousands of homes and business across Scotland to full-fibre. As well as keeping the existing network running throughout the Covid-19 crisis, our engineers have, safely and with social distancing in place, continued building the new infrastructure to make sure that as lockdown restrictions ease, our network is there to support families, businesses and the economic recovery.

“Many Scottish households and businesses can already switch to the new technology and hundreds of thousands more will be following in the months and years ahead. People can check online and ask their broadband providers to find out more about the many benefits. Full-fibre is more reliable and more resilient – meaning fewer faults and more predictable, consistent speeds. It’s also ‘future-proof’ to easily meet the growing data demands of future technologies.”

HeraldScotland:

Openreach said there are "clear economic benefits to building full-fibre in more rural areas, quoting a report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) which said that connecting everyone by 2025 would create a £5.5 billion boost to the nation’s economy.

The report commissioned by Openreach also said that 37,400 people across Scotland could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity. This could include roles in small businesses and entrepreneurs – as well as allowing thousands more people to work remotely.

Openreach chief executive Clive Selley said: “This year we’ve all seen the importance of having a decent broadband connection and at Openreach, we’re convinced that full-fibre technology can underpin the UK’s economic recovery.

"It’s Ofcom’s proposals that give us the right conditions to build commercially in the hardest to reach areas.

“We’re determined to find inventive engineering solutions and effective partnership funding models to reduce costs and enable us to connect as many communities as possible across the UK without public subsidy."

The Scottish Government’s connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Digital connectivity has played a vital role in supporting our efforts to keep people safe and connected during lockdown, and will play a pivotal role in plans for our strategic economic recovery from the pandemic, maintaining jobs and livelihoods and creating new skills and opportunities.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We’re proposing to allow Openreach to recover its costs of building full fibre broadband – in rural areas, smaller towns and cities alike – by keeping the wholesale charge for its entry-level superfast broadband service capped to inflation. This follows a significant price cut that we made to this product in 2018, and still provides for a margin on fibre investment, as Openreach’s costs fall."

HeraldScotland:

The move comes a day after it emerged customers are in line to share in savings of more than £270m a year on the cost of their broadband bills, after Ofcom reached agreement with companies on pricing changes and commitments to offer better deals when consumers’ contracts come to an end.

A report released by the telecoms and media regulator found that about 40% of UK broadband customers, 8.7 million, are out of contract and most of them are paying higher prices than they could be if they struck a new deal or changed providers. On average, these customers are paying about £4.70 a month more than their provider’s average price.

The report found that Virgin (61%), Sky (42%) and Plusnet (42%) have the highest proportion of customers out of contract. However, EE and TalkTalk broadband customers who are out of contract pay the highest amount more a month than other customers at their provider, at £7.90 and £6.90 respectively.