Highlands denied superfast broadband over Scottish Government 'failure'
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The Scottish Government’s stopgap voucher scheme to provide broadband in rural areas to provide has been labelled “an expensive mistake”.
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSPs Edward Mountain and Donald Cameron both slammed the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) announced recently by connectivity minister Paul Wheelhouse.
The SBVS is to cover the shortfall and is expected to range in cost from £26 million to more than £50 million over five years after the government failed to deliver the larger R100 scheme in the Highlands while succeeding in the central belt.
The Tory MSPs have savaged what they see as a litany of failure stemming from the tender process to the present, with the so-called "north lot" that includes the Highlands still bogged down in a legal challenge.
The SNP chose to put the Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Angus and Aberdeenshire along with the islands and Aberdeen and Dundee into one lot to win a contractor.
That is despite those areas having by far the toughest terrain for infrastructure development as well as the greatest demand for rural broadband, with an estimated 100,000 households or premises out of 180,000 nationally needing connectivity.
However, after Openreach won the contract, another bidder, Gigaclear, challenged the process in court – in so doing potentially endangering R100
Now, with the botched the £600 million R100 high-speed broadband programme to be supplemented for the foreseeable future by the SBVS to financially help people establish their own connections, Mr Mountain has labelled the process a broken promise.
Mr Wheelhouse said: “We believe the overall cost estimate for the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme as a whole is between £26.4 million and £50.7 million over a five-year period. That’s based on between 20 and 40 per cent take-up – that’s why there is a range of between £26.4m and £50.7m.
“We’ve obviously had to make some estimates based on modelling to understand the kind of demand we might face so it is something we will keep under review and stress monitor on a regular basis, so if it looks like it is getting out of hand, we’ll be coming back to the rural connectivity committee probably to inform you of that and keep you posted.”
He refused to be drawn on when the government should have awarded the contract for the SNP’s manifesto promise to deliver R100 by 2021, saying: “I would hesitate to guess.”
Mr Mountain said: “It is clear that Scottish ministers were clueless as to when contracts would need to be issued to deliver R100 by the end of 2021.
“The incompetence of the SNP government means Highlanders have been left without superfast broadband and some rural communities will now get a voucher instead of a fibre broadband connection.
“The voucher scheme could cost over £50m – that is an expensive mistake for failing to deliver R100 on time and as promised.”
Mr Cameron said: “The SNP announced in 2016 that they would deliver superfast broadband to all homes and households by 2021.
“Instead of that, residents and businesses in my region are being offered a complicated and bureaucratic new scheme, which is not what they were promised.
“This scheme is a confession of failure and the only superfast element of their performance is in the production of excuses for failing to deliver.”