An Orkney MSP has called for the Scottish Government to finally address the gaps in broadband connectivity in the islands.
Lib Dem Liam McArthur believes the government’s R100 superfast broadband scheme is “likely to fall far short” of the island’s needs for faster broadband and better coverage.
Ministers had previously said the programme would deliver superfast broadband to 100% of the population by the end of the year. However, earlier this year it emerged the northern part of the roll-out is not due to be completed until 2026 – four years behind schedule.
Mr McArthur is now calling for the Scottish and UK governments to pool resources and work with the council and fellow stakeholders to ensure no household or business in Orkney is left behind.
Covid lockdown highlights shortfall
Mr McArthur said lockdown had shown the importance of staying connected, adding: “Lockdown has exposed the shortcomings in Orkney’s broadband coverage. Whether for those required to work or study from home, or simply in the context of trying to keep in contact with friends and family, it is increasingly obvious that good, reliable and affordable high-speed broadband is a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have’.
“Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s R100 programme is badly delayed and unlikely to deliver the 100% coverage promised by the first minister. Meanwhile, the voucher scheme launched to help plug gaps has proved confusing, difficult to access and insufficient to meet the need.
“Pooling resources available under the R100 programme and the UK government’s Gigabit scheme will enable more to be done at a local level.
“However, if parts of Orkney are not to be left behind again in this latest broadband initiative, there needs to be much more coordination at a local level.”
Greater coordination at local level
Mr McArthur has now written to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to ask for better local coordination to tackle the issue.
In his letter to the Skye and Lochaber MSP, he called for an urgent meeting to discuss the matter, stressing the delivery of the programme in his constituency has “fallen far short” of the government’s promises.
He said: “As someone who represents a rural and island constituency, the finance secretary should recognise this need to tailor solutions to local circumstances. She must also be aware how crucial such digital infrastructure is to building a strong recovery in island communities like Orkney.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said they had made “substantial investments” in digital infrastructure to improve coverage as part of an “ambitious policy agenda.”
He added: “This is despite all legislative and regulatory powers on telecommunications remaining fully reserved to the UK Government.
“Preparatory work to bring superfast broadband to the north of Scotland through the Reaching 100% (R100) programme is already well under way, including for some of the most remote rural and island communities.
“Delivering speeds over 30 times faster than the Scottish Government’s superfast commitment, fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) technology will be used to connect the vast majority of addresses that fall within the R100 North lot contract build.”