The first minister promised households across rural Scoland will have access to 4,000 new superfast broadband connections by the end of June, after being told to apologise for “failures” of a flagship SNP programme.
The Reaching 100 (R100) programme was first 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.
We exclusively revealed no homes in the Highlands have been connected to superfast broadband through the programme, while tens of thousands of others are still waiting for a vital connection.
So far only 109 properties have been connected, leaving 59,276 homes and businesses waiting to be hooked up to superfast broadband.
Meanwhile, the programme – which covers the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, the islands and Perthshire, – has been pushed back by six years to 2027.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said 4,000 new connections will be made within the first six months of the year.
Thousands of connections to be made
Speaking in Holyrood, the first minister said: “Broadband investment is reserved to Westminster, but given its failure to deliver on that, and its failure to deliver on so many other things, we have had to step in and make a difference.
“The R100 North contract was signed in December 2020.
“Despite the pandemic, a huge amount of preparatory work has been done since, including a remodelling exercise to make sure every connection is full-fibre, survey work for over 5,000 properties, and 16 subsea cables which will deliver vital connectivity to 15 of Scotland’s islands.”
She added: “We anticipate by the end of June it will have delivered 4,000 connections.”
The R100 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.
Ms Sturgeon added in her statement that 750 applications for one of these vouchers have already been handed out.
First Minister must ‘apologise’
Scottish Conservatives demanded the first minister apologises to remote and rural communities across Scotland for the lack of progress made in the R100 programme.
Tory MSP Finlay Carson, convener of Holyrood’s rural affairs, islands and natural environment committee, said people are getting fed up with the SNP blaming Westminster for poor broadband.
He said: “The practical rollout of broadband is devolved to the Scottish Government and that line is wearing thin, just like the patience of people in rural Scotland.
“The SNP talked up this scheme as reaching 100%, but rural communities are not getting what they expected.
“Nearly 37,000 properties in ‘lot one’ will not get fibre from the main scheme, and the voucher scheme is delivering nothing, there has only been 4% of uptake so far.”
Conservatives accused of ‘griping’
Ms Sturgeon accused the Scottish Conservatives of griping.
She replied: “We are ensuring every premise in Scotland can access superfast broadband connections despite telecoms being reserved, and that is not a matter of opinion, that is a matter of fact.
“The UK Government’s contribution to the R100 project is £31.5 million, which is 5% of the total, compared to £579m invested by the Scottish Government.
“Again the Scottish Government is getting on with the job of delivering connections while all the Scottish Conservatives can do is gripe and gurn about it.”