Listener finds ‘work to do’ on rolling out superfast broadband in Scotland

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The Auditor General of Scotland has provided an update on the progress of the Scottish Government’s R100 (Reaching 100%) superfast broadband scheme.

The report indicates that after a slow start, as of December 31, 2021, around 107,000 premises remain to be connected via contracts, out of the approximately 112,000 premises that are expected to be connected.

He noted that many of them are in the hardest to reach places, the majority in the North. “Connecting these remaining premises will be difficult and costly.”

Average speeds have increased significantly since 2018 thanks to commercial and public sector investment, with the Superfast Broadband (DSSB) scheme reaching around 951,000 premises, for a total public sector investment currently estimated at £311m.

However, due to delays in finalizing the R100 intervention area and awarding the North, South and Center contracts to BT, work will now continue until 2027 in some areas.

There was also a legal challenge to the North’s contract. This was resolved, but meant that the contract was not awarded until December 2020. The number of premises covered by this contract had to be reassessed as commercial coverage had expanded in the meantime – and did not was finalized only in August 2021.

Stephen Boyle, Auditor General of Scotland, said: “The pandemic has shown that fast and reliable broadband is an essential public service – but there is still work to be done to connect or upgrade around 100,000 homes and businesses under Scottish Government plans.

“Infrastructure work, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, will continue for several years,” he continued, adding, “These are properties in the most difficult to reach places with land difficult, making it a huge challenge for the government and its partners.”

Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat culture, media and sport spokesperson and MP for the Far North, said: “My constituents are tired of being cluttered with age-old broadband connections Stone.

“The SNP has promised to deliver high-speed broadband access to every home and business in Scotland by 2021 – that promise has been dropped at the earliest opportunity.”

Scottish Labor rural spokesman Colin Smyth added: “The past two years have shown that reliable connectivity is a necessity, not a luxury – but for Scotland’s forgotten rural communities it is a super-slow, not ultra-fast broadband deployment.

“The SNP-Green government must do everything possible to get these high-speed connections in place for everyone as soon as possible.”

The Scottish Government launched the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) in September 2020, enabling people who would not have access to very high speed broadband by the end of 2021, or where there was no planned coverage , to request a voucher to connect through another provider.

In 2018, Audit Scotland reported that the Scottish Government had met its target of providing fiber broadband access to 95% of premises in Scotland by the end of 2017. At that time, its DSSB scheme had connected 890,000 premises.

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