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EXCLUSIVE: Tens of thousands of homes still waiting for superfast broadband through SNP flagship scheme

Edward Mountain, MSP for the Highlands and Islands

No homes in the Highlands have been connected to superfast broadband through the SNP’s flagship R100 programme – with tens of thousands still waiting for a vital connection.

The Reaching 100 (R100) programme was initially announced by the SNP government in 2017 and was supposed to bring faster internet to 60,000 properties across northern Scotland by the end of 2021.

However so far only 109 properties have been connected through the R100 programme, with none in the Highlands receiving a superfast connection.

The completion date for this programme has now been pushed back six years to 2027, with the Scottish Conservatives saying it shows the government is “failing miserably” on its promises to those in remote and rural communities.

Tens of thousands still waiting

New statistics from the Scottish Government show 59,276 homes and businesses are still waiting to be hooked up to superfast broadband through R100, including all 12,773 properties identified in the Highland Council area.

The government says despite this delay, Openreach, which has been tasked with delivering this project, has carried out “substantial survey work” and says “many miles of cabling” need to be laid before properties can be connected up to the core network.

Openreach engineers have been surveying the areas marked for the superfast broadband scheme. 

This work also involves laying 16 new subsea cables to provide connections to the islands, which is one of the reasons why this programme is taking longer than first expected.

The government said: “A number of contractual milestones have been delivered, specifically the survey and detailed design completion for several build phases, and subsea contracts coming into force.

“Openreach has confirmed that subsea surveys have been completed.

“This latter milestone is subject to programme assurance.

“The ‘north lot’ contract was subject to a legal challenge, and contract award was placed on hold until the matter was resolved.

“The ‘north lot’ contract was subsequently signed with BT on 11 December 2020, resulting in a delay to contract delivery in the north lot.”

However the government adds the evolving technology means the programme, which covers the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, the islands and some parts of Perthshire, will now deliver internet speeds 30 times faster than what was initially promised.

Only small handful apply for vouchers

This programme also includes a voucher scheme to help people hook up to superfast broadband in northern Scotland.

Those not covered by the R100 scheme can apply for a one-off voucher of £5,000 to help them set up a permanent superfast connection themselves, and homes and businesses with internet speeds of less than 30 megabits per second can apply for a £400 voucher to set up a temporary connection while the R100 programme is rolled out.

Tens of thousands are still waiting for superfast broadband connections in the Highlands

The data, obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through a Freedom of Information request, also showed only a small handful of those eligible for these vouchers have actually applied for the money.

A total of 36,903 properties are eligible for the £5,000 voucher, but so far only 1,525 have applied, with the government paying out £673,120.67.

On top of this over 68,500 properties were eligible for the £400 voucher, but only 290 applications have been made with the government shelling out just £18,699.62.

This means only 4% of those eligible for the £5,000 voucher and 0.4% of those eligible for the £400 voucher have actually taken up the offer.

Government ‘failing’ Highlands

Edward Mountain, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said: “These figures show there is a stark difference between what the SNP promised the Highlands in 2016 and what is actually being delivered.

“Nearly 37,000 properties in the north will not be connected by fibre-to-the-premises.

Edward Mountain, MSP for the Highlands and Islands

“Over 10,000 of those properties missing out are in the Highlands.

“These figures are truly staggering.

“While vouchers are available as an alternative to a fibre connection I am not convinced the SNP is making a success of this scheme.

“It is deeply concerning to see that only 4% of eligible households have requested the main £5,000 voucher.

“The R100 scheme was geared to reach 100% – but it seems that under the SNP’s watch we are a long, long way from that.

“For the last five years we have seen the SNP over-promise and under-deliver when it comes to rural broadband.

“This SNP government failed miserably in its mission to provide broadband to all in the Highlands by 2021 and now this new information is yet another blow for our remote rural communities.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Despite telecoms legislation being reserved to the UK Parliament, the Scottish Government has made a substantial investment in the Reaching 100% programme (R100).

“While the £600 million R100 contracts will deliver a large number of full fibre connections, this far exceeds our superfast commitment.

“A key part of our 100% commitment is the R100 Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) which ensures that every address across the Highlands and the rest of Scotland has the ability to access a superfast broadband connection.

“The scheme is demand-led and it is ultimately a decision for property owners whether to secure a connection via this route.”

R100 superfast broadband scheme could be delayed until 2027 across north

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