‘Challenging and expensive’ – report casts doubt on Scotland’s plans for ubiquitous superfast broadband
Auditor’s report finds difficulties are likely to persist in the Highlands and Islands
The Scottish Government is still some way off being able to provide “100% superfast broadband for all”, with over 100,000 properties in remoter parts of the country continuing to miss out.
In a progress report on the government’s R100 (Reaching 100%) programme, the Auditor General for Scotland, Stephen Boyle, noted that as the 107,000 homes and businesses that are still to be connected are in “the hardest to reach locations” completing the programme is going to prove “challenging and expensive”.
"The pandemic has shown that a fast and reliable broadband connection is an essential utility, but there is still work to do to connect or upgrade around 100,000 homes and businesses as part of the Scottish Government's plans,” Boyle said. "Infrastructure work, particularly in the Highlands and Islands will continue for a number of years. These are properties in the hardest to reach locations with difficult terrain, making it a huge challenge for government and its partners."
Work to connect properties in the north of the country has been hampered due to the geography of the region, although Boyle said a legal dispute over the contract for the work also held things up. That dispute was settled in 2020 and the contract was awarded to BT, which also won the contracts for the south and central regions. Following the delay, the number of premises that will be covered by the north contract had to be reassessed, meaning work did not get under way until August 2021.
The full rollout is not expected to complete until 2027. The initial plan had been to achieve full coverage by the end of 2021.
Liberal Democrat culture, media and sport spokesperson Jamie Stone, who represents Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross in the House of Commons, said his constituents are "fed up with being lumbered with stone-age broadband connections”, adding that both governments need to step up their efforts to serve citizens in remote parts of the country.
"The SNP promised to deliver access to high-speed broadband to every household and business in Scotland by 2021. That promise was junked at the first opportunity,” he said. "A reliable internet connection is an essential part of modern life. It has a major part to play in everything from education to starting a business. Both of our governments need to stop treating the far north as an afterthought."
Scottish Labour's rural spokesperson Colin Smyth added that the Audit Scotland report is "another slap-down" to the R100 programme.
“After years of delays and excuses, the programme is still struggling to deliver what was promised," he said. “The last two years have shown that reliable connectivity is a necessity, not a luxury, but for Scotland’s forgotten rural communities it’s been a case of super slow, not superfast broadband rollout. As everything from work to services to education moves online, more than ever the Scottish Government needs to up its game and stop leaving people behind."
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