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Connectivity / Broadband voucher scheme could do with a ‘rethink’, MSP suggests

First minister says he is happy to look into the issue

SCOTTISH first minister Humza Yousaf says he is happy look at the superfast broadband voucher scheme after concerns from local MSP Beatrice Wishart that it may need a “rethink”.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament, the Lib Dem referred to the “eye-watering” £725,000 quote a Clousta residents received from BT for bringing reliable broadband to the Westside community.

The Scottish Government’s R100 programme aims to bring superfast broadband – more than 30Mbps – to all properties in the country.

For properties in hard to reach areas outwith the scope of R100, there is a voucher scheme worth up to £5,000 for alternative technology like wireless or satellite.

But Wishart added that inflation has impacted the scheme’s real terms value.

Yousaf responded to the Shetland MSP by saying he would be happy to look into the matter.

But he noted success in the R100 scheme bringing fibre broadband to some island communities, including Fair Isle, which was connected ahead of schedule through a subsea cable.

However, the R100 is behind on initial time targets, with early commitments aiming for every home and business in Scotland to have access to superfast broadband by the end of 2021.

A claim in parliament this week by the first minster that all homes and businesses in Scotland can access a superfast broadband service has also been strongly questioned by Orkney MSP Liam McArthur.

Yousaf added that the government’s R100 programme was “going beyond that” to even faster speeds.

But many parts of island communities like Shetland and Orkney do not currently have superfast broadband, with availability in the Northern Isles recently reported as 71.6 per cent.

McArthur said there must be a “simple misunderstanding” behind Yousaf’s claim, but invited the first minister to Orkney to “explain to local households and businesses how they can access the superfast broadband that apparently has now been delivered”.

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Meanwhile a UK Government funded project to deliver high-speed connectivity across the country is set to include a contract for Orkney and Shetland worth an indicative £23.7 million. This figure may change.

The government said there are an estimated 11,300 homes in the Northern Isles outside of supplier plans for upgraded internet.

However, there is no timescale for procurement for the Orkney and Shetland contract for the government’s Project Gigabit.

The UK Government said at the end of 2023 that it has 16 contracts in place for Project Gigabit, and “combined with our procurements running across the country, this represents over £2 billion of investment to support the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband to over 1.1 million premises in hard-to-reach areas across the UK.”.

Gigabit speeds are 1,000Mbps.

The UK Government is putting around £5 billion into Project Gigabit, and an estimated £450 million of that is destined to come to Scotland.

In theory Project Gigabit would run in tandem with the Scottish Government’s R100 scheme.

It is understood that Project Gigabit would target the properties which are left out of R100.

Nearly 74 per cent of premises in Scotland can already access a gigabit-capable broadband network.

Technology secretary Michelle Donelan told Shetland News: “Whether in Sheffield, Osbaston, Shetland or Orkney, it’s vital that communities all over the UK have access to fast and reliable broadband which is a crucial part of modern life.

“High-speed connectivity unlocks opportunity and fuels economic growth, and with UK government funding, communities in Shetland and Orkney are set to benefit from a digital infrastructure revolution which will deliver transformative change for decades to come.”

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