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Community / Contract to boost connectivity in north of Scotland signed after legal delay

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart calls for speedy implementation, as ‘people deserve a realistic timescale’

Work on the R100 is expected to finally get under way in the north of Scotland.

WORK is expected to get underway on the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% (R100) broadband programme in the north of Scotland in the new year.

It comes after the £384 million contract was signed with BT following a legal challenge that had significantly delayed progress.

The news was welcomed by local MSP Beatrice Wishart who highlighted how the lack of reliable broadband connections continues to hamper many islanders.

The contract will involve laying 16 new subsea cables to connect island authorities.

BT plc has been contracted to deliver all of the R100 contracts and Openreach will commence survey work in the north lot area early in the New Year.

Connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse said the signing of the contract was a “significant step towards ensuring our 100 per cent commitment is delivered across Scotland, including to some of our most remote and rural communities”.

“Scotland has some of the most challenging locations anywhere in Europe for providing telecoms infrastructure and we are taking additional steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach areas,” he said.

“More than 80 per cent of the build we are funding will provide full fibre to the premises and speeds of up to one Gigabit per second.

“Complex engineering work to lay 16 new subsea cables will provide resilient connections for our most remote communities and download speeds equal to that experienced in our most urban areas.

Wishart said: “It’s now important that survey work happens swiftly so people know exactly when and how they can expect the be connected. There have been so many broken promises in the R100 saga that people deserve a realistic timescale.

“The Scottish Government’s R100 programme was supposed to deliver superfast broadband to every home and business by 2021. It’s been clear for some time that commitment won’t be delivered.

“A contract for Southern Scotland was signed last year and work there is not expected to be completed until summer 2024. We need to see drive to make sure work in the North Lot progresses quickly and efficiently so people in island communities aren’t left further behind.”

Wheelhouse continued: “We have also developed plans, in parallel with main infrastructure investment, to ensure our 100 per cent superfast commitment is met with our Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme. This will ensure that everyone can access and benefit from this world-leading digital capability.”

The voucher scheme has been designed to fill the gaps left by the main programme, with an aim to ensure that every address in Scotland has the ability to access a superfast broadband connection by the end of 2021.

Superfast broadband is defined as speeds of at least 30 Mbps, a number which may seem like a pipedream to those in Shetland’s outlying areas where connectivity is poor.

Manager of Shetland Telecom Marvin Smith previously encouraged local people to wait before deciding to access the voucher scheme.

“The important thing for people to understand is that the voucher schemes are going to be available for many months if not years and it is critical that they get the right long term broadband solution,” he told Shetland News in October.

“It is unlikely that this level of funding is going to be available again so cashing in vouchers for short term solutions is not a good idea.

“The Scottish Government will be releasing the list of which properties will be getting improved solutions through the main R100 contract with BT early next year.

“Every single householder in Shetland will then know what (if any) upgrade is planned for them and when that will be delivered.”

Shetland Islands Council recently embarked on a project which will, amongst other things, provide guidance on what Shetland needs to do to ensure it has the best broadband services available to the whole of the islands. That work is due to be completed by the end of February.