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Community / Around 1,600 properties will need vouchers under broadband scheme

More than 2,600 properties, however, are in line for an upgrade in the next three years under the main R100 programme

MORE than 1,500 properties in Shetland will have to rely on vouchers to access superfast broadband under a government scheme to bring speedy connectivity to all – leading to the isles’ MSP saying there remains a “clear digital divide”.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said “broadband provisions in the Northern Isles are simply not up to what is needed”.

It comes as Shetland News can reveal that around 1,600 properties in the isles will not have their connection upgraded under the Scottish Government’s R100 programme.

They will instead have to rely on a voucher scheme to access super fast broadband, which is deemed to be speeds of at least 30Mbps.

A ‘one off’ voucher worth up to £5,000 is on offer to help deliver a permanent broadband connection to those properties for which there is no roll-out of superfast broadband planned.

This covers technology like fibre, fixed wireless, mobile broadband and satellite.

There is, however, more than 2,600 properties across Shetland scheduled for an upgrade from either R100 or commercial plans over the coming three years.

The R100 programme promises to connect everyone to superfast broadband by the end of 2021, and the voucher scheme was launched in a bid to connect properties which fell outside the reach of the project.

This tended to be properties in rural and outlying areas of Scotland.

The project has suffered delays along the way, including legal challenge for the north of Scotland contract.

People in Shetland were previously advised to hold off on applying for vouchers until more details were known about the main roll-out of the R100 programme – which have now been released.

But Shetland Telecom’s Marvin Smith said people may be better to still hold off and speak around regarding the prospect of any possible community projects – because there are currently no suppliers which residents can use their voucher with.

Reflecting this, as of 2 August zero broadband vouchers had been approved in Shetland.

MSP Wishart said the Scottish Government broke its promise that every premises in Scotland would have access to superfast broadband by May 2021.

She also has “serious concerns that vouchers worth £5,000 will be anywhere near enough to cover the costs of getting some homes connected to reliable superfast broadband”.

“The scheme has been plagued by delays,” the Lib Dem added.

“By kicking the can down the road, it has let islanders down.

“There’s no use in scapegoating these failings on Westminster. The SNP made a crystal-clear promise to ensure every household and business would have access and many Shetlanders are missing out, especially those furthest away from existing infrastructure.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted digital inequalities and the impact the lack of adequate broadband has, whether for working, learning, socialising, or accessing services.

“It is also a real challenge for efforts to make Shetland an attractive place to live and work when digital connectivity is incomplete. It is as essential as other utilities.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson highlighted that among the R100 plans is the laying of new fibre cables to islands such as Fair Isle and Unst.

“Providing a high standard of digital connectivity is at the heart of our plans for a resilient, green economic recovery from Covid-19,” they added.

“We are investing more than £600 million through the Reaching 100% (R100) programme, which will ensure that all homes and business across Scotland can access superfast broadband.

“In 2022, 16 new subsea fibre cables will be deployed to our island communities, paving the way for the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband speeds. This will include Fair Isle, Unst, Whalsay and Yell.

“Contract coverage plans for the North of Scotland received final assurance at the end of August and our online coverage checker has been updated.

“Through a combination of our R100 contracts and our R100 Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme, which offers a subsidy of up to £5,000 to secure a superfast broadband connection, we will ensure our 100% commitment is achieved.”

The voucher scheme now has over 70 registered suppliers, the government added.

The online coverage checker can be found here.