Broadband: Wishart highlights Whalsay communities missing out


Scottish Liberal Democrat and Shetland MSP, Beatrice Wishart has highlighted BT’s work to lay a new subsea broadband connection to Whalsay will not benefit all of the communities on the island. This comes as the Auditor General for Scotland provided an update on the Scottish Government’s R100 programme.

SNP manifesto commitments for every home in Scotland to have access to superfast broadband by 2021 has slipped by six years. The practical delivery of broadband roll-out is devolved to the Scottish Government. The Auditor General’s report states the latest estimations for the North Lot competition will be in 2026/27.

A resident of Whalsay recently raised the issue of BT’s broadband contract covering only some communities on the island with Ms Wishart. That is in spite of the costs taken on by the company to lay a subsea cable.

Ms Wishart said:

“This is a ridiculous situation. Despite putting in the subsea cable, the end result is that areas of Whalsay will be left without fibre broadband. We shouldn’t be surprised though, as there are other examples from previous broadband contracts across Shetland where communities experienced dividing lines.

“It is once again disappointing news about the Scottish Government’s handling of broadband. The timetable for every household to get superfast broadband seems to be getting further and further out of reach.

“Communities in Whalsay that miss out on connections are told they can apply for a voucher, which may not even provide the reliable fixed-line fibre connections that households need, or hope for a possible extension of the scheme in the future. Where is the fairness or sense in that?”

“The Scottish Government should have considered the difficulties the terrain of rural, remote and island areas would pose within the North Lot contract but it’s plain that lessons haven’t been learnt from previous ones. Working from the centre out is an instinct and habit this government needs to shake off.”

 

ENDS

 

Notes to Editors

The report from the Auditor General for Scotland can be read here.

The text of the letter from the Scottish Government regarding BT’s North Lot broadband contract can be found below:

Dear Beatrice,

Thank you for your letter dated 14 February 2022 on behalf of your constituent regarding the new subsea fibre broadband connection from the R100 programme. As you know, but to inform your constituent, the area of telecommunications is wholly reserved to the UK Parliament under the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998. Despite this, the Scottish Government has had to step in and take the lead in addressing poor coverage and use the Scottish Government’s own resources, given the economic importance of broadband in Scotland. The Scottish Government recognises the ever-increasing importance of good quality digital connectivity in all aspects of our lives, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have only served to reinforce that. Situations like those described by your constituent are why we made our commitment to extend superfast broadband access to 100% of premises in Scotland, regardless of remoteness or rurality. Our 100% commitment will be delivered through three strands of activity - the £600 million Reaching 100% (R100) contracts (North, Central and South), our Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) and commercial coverage. The R100 contracts were won under competition. BT – the successful bidder for the North lot contract - bid for the properties they were confident of being able to build to with the available funding. Unfortunately this does mean that not all of the properties on Whalsay have been included within their build plans. Of course, throughout the delivery stage of the programme, we will always look to extend coverage where we can within the available funding. However, until such times as we have any certainty over delivery to properties in the area, they will remain eligible for up to £5,000 each through the R100 SBVS. I should add that the SBVS main voucher is also specifically designed to allow vouchers in a community to be combined to extend available funding. This is intended to be led by suppliers, rather than individual property owners or tenants to ensure co-ordinated, comprehensive areas of superfast coverage where possible. A supplier-led scheme makes securing a connection as simple as possible for individuals. More information, including on how to engage a supplier to deliver a connection on their behalf through the SBVS, can be found at www.scotlandsuperfast.com. I hope that this information proves useful to you and your constituent.

Yours sincerely

KATE FORBES

The House of Commons Library research briefing:

The power to legislate for telecommunications (including wireless telegraphy and internet services) is reserved to the UK Government.

However, the practical delivery of broadband roll-out is led by local bodies in England and the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that the local bodies in England and the devolved Administrations can develop their own broadband strategies to guide the infrastructure build in their region, and set roll-out targets that are more ambitious than those set at the UK Government level.

The full briefing can be read here.


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