Rural areas in the north and north-east are being left behind in the race for superfast broadband, a public watchdog has found.
Audit Scotland has today published a report by the Auditor General into the Scottish Government’s superfast broadband programme.
In its pages, ministers are praised for achieving their target of providing fibre broadband access to 95% of properties across the country.
But the report also warns that further investment may be needed on top of the government’s £600 million investment and highlights a lack of clarity over how it will achieve its target of 100% coverage of 30 megabit per second (mbs) by 2021.
- MSP claims island gets ‘raw deal’ as report highlights huge gaps between country and city
Rural areas also continue to lag behind towns and cities with the north and north-east enjoying only half the speed of the fastest areas in the country, including Dundee.
And while the situation has improved since 2016, Orkney has the worst average speeds in the country and Aberdeenshire the third-worst.
The two areas are also trailing behind other parts of Scotland when it comes to receiving speeds of 10mbps, with around 13% of customers in Aberdeenshire and about 28% in Orkney still not receiving that speed.
This is despite the UK Government, which has reserved powers over telecoms, introducing a minimum service obligation of 10% in November 2015, subject to a cost cap.
Mike Rumbles, north-east MSP, said: “With the clock ticking, the Scottish Government has finally ear marked £600 million for the programme for broadband development.
“Some of that funding is planned for the north-east but so far progress has been glacial.
“After listening to ministers patting themselves on the back for six years, I want to see more action from the Scottish Government to target the areas worst affected.
“No more announcements. No more promises. Just get on with the job.”
Meanwhile, Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, said the report revealed the islands received a “raw deal”.
He said: “This latest report confirms that and lays bare the extent to which Orkney is getting a raw deal.
“It also makes the case for future broadband funding to be prioritised in areas such as Orkney which are already lagging behind.
“The Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver high speed broadband to 100% of households and businesses across Scotland by 2021 is very welcome.
“However, with the procurement of the R100 programme already delayed, it is not at all clear how this commitment will be met.
“It is all the more important, therefore, that places like Orkney are at the front of the queue when it finally comes to delivery of this programme.”
Fraser McKinlay, Audit Scotland’s director of performance audit and best value, said: “Good progress has been made to date but the toughest hurdle remains – to extend the benefits to everyone, particularly remote and rural communities.
“As well as being the toughest hurdle, it is not yet clear how the Scottish Government is going to fulfil its pledge to deliver superfast broadband to everyone by the end of 2021.”
However the government has said its commitment to superfast broadband is “unmatched” elsewhere in the UK.
Paul Wheelhouse, minister for energy, connectivity and the islands, said: “The report recognises it won’t be easy to deliver the commitment, but we have backed our commitment with a record £600 million (96.5% funding by Scottish Government) in initial funding for procurement of the Reaching 100 (or R100) percent programme and are currently in dialogue with three suppliers.”