THE SCOTTISH Government’s £600 million flagship programme of bringing high speed broadband to every household and business in Scotland by the end of 2021 has been delayed by at least two years.
In parliament on Thursday, islands and connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse confirmed what was already widely expected throughout rural Scotland.
The minister was unable to give a date as to when premises in the north of Scotland would eventually benefit from the R100 programme due to a legal challenge from Gigaclear Ltd after the contract for the north has been awarded to BT.
But he confirmed that people in the north, including in Shetland, would have access to a voucher scheme that would help households and businesses access to high speed broadband from other suppliers.
Wheelhouse said: “It is disappointing not to be able to announce details of the contract for the North Lot due to a dispute over the awarding of the contract, but the Scottish Government is doing its utmost to ensure that people in the north of Scotland can access superfast broadband through the R100 programme as soon as possible, including through our voucher scheme.”
Highlands and islands s Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston said the announcement by the Scottish Government was a “staggering admission of failure”.
“People and businesses in communities across the Highlands and Islands will be horrified by this latest announcement of further delays to R100,” he said.
“How can businesses and service providers plan investment, or plan to develop and improved their services, if the Scottish Government cannot get something as fundamental as rolling out broadband right?
“Everyone needs fit-for-purpose broadband, and nowhere more than our more remote communities. Yet the minister could not even forecast a date for implementation. That is simply appalling and leaves communities in limbo.”
SNP list MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Maree Todd, said everyone not connected by the end of 2021 would have access top the voucher scheme.
“The minister has guaranteed that islanders who are not connected under R100 by 2021 will be eligible for a voucher scheme which will allow access to commercial broadband services – this will be offered to all available homes and offices who are not connected under the original timescale,” she said.
“It is worth highlighting, that without Scottish Government leadership, only 29 per cent of premises in the Shetland Islands would have access to superfast broadband – under a SNP led government, it’s now at the rising figure of 74 per cent.
“I am therefore confident that the Scottish Government will honour its commitment of delivering superfast broadband to every home and business in the country.”
But Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said homes and businesses in the Northern Isles were left behind once more while the lack of proper broadband connections would continue to hinder communities.
“The government must give a clear and realistic answer for when it expects every household and business in Shetland to be connected to superfast broadband,” she said.
“Saying that there is now a strong foundation upon which to reach 100% is cold comfort when you can’t get past dial-up.
“If the majority of properties in central and southern Scotland are only due to be connected by 2023, it raises serious questions about when more challenging properties in Shetland can expect the same service.”