The delay in the roll-out of superfast broadband has been greeted with anger in the north.
The northern part of the Scottish Government’s superfast broadband rollout will not be finished until 2026, four years later than originally planned.
Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for connectivity, said the R100 scheme will take longer than the Government had initially hoped but will ultimately deliver faster speeds for customers.
R100 was meant to deliver superfast broadband to 100% of premises by the end of 2021.
Maxine Smith, who owns Venus Beauty Salon in Invergordon, where she is a local councillor, said: “For businesses and households in the northern Highlands this is not only annoying but devastating news.
“We often feel left behind, the last cog in the wheel. Myself and my neighbours got fed up waiting and opted for satellite.
“Our broadband speeds were as low as 0.5mb now we get 28mb or so. Still nowhere near what superfast BB consumers get.
“One whole village in my ward, Ardross had to resort to spending windfarm money to install satellite throughout.
“By the time we get offered superfast I can imagine everyone else will be into the next level of advanced technology.
“I just hope that BT will give a commitment to offer discounts to those in Highland who are at the back of the technology queue.”
Ben Thompson, a director of Nevis Cycles in Fort William and also a local councillor, said: “For our small shop the delayed roll-out of superfast broadband is disappointing.
“We’re making much more use of the internet even compared to 12 months ago. We’ve seen big increases in our online use for sales, marketing and stock control.
“During the pandemic our online sales grew very quickly from a very low level. They’re now a valuable part of our business and one we’d like to continue to grow. Fast and reliable broadband is fundamental to that, not just for us, but also for our Highland customers.”
Pery Zakeri, development manager of the Finderne Development Trust, who have been working to bring fast broadband to the communities south of Forres since summer 2019, said: “Our worst fears were that delivery of the R100 North contract could take until 2024.
“The minister now admitting to a further two-year delay, a total of five years behind schedule, is nothing short of catastrophic for our rural communities, the rural economy and its ambitions.”
Caithness councillor Struan Mackie, managing director of a local food and drink business, said: “In the last four years the Scottish Government has failed to deliver a fraction of the 30mb R100 programme.
“The never-ending promises made to Highland communities and businesses from successive SNP ministers have shown to be meaningless, with thousands left without even the most basic form of broadband in every corner of remote and rural Scotland.
“How can we believe that the Scottish Government will deliver a gigabit network in five years’ time when they have failed miserably to deliver speeds a 30th of that level in the last four years.
“Covid has shown that broadband is an everyday utility and vital to retaining people in the area and attracting new business and investment.”