Broadband speeds in the Borders are the second slowest in Scotland, a new report reveals.
Only Orkney’s internet users have a greater need for speed than those here, according to an Audit Scotland progress update on the rollout of superfast broadband nationwide published yesterday.
Faster broadband is available in all the rest of the country’s 32 local authority areas, including the Western Isles and Shetland, and several boast average speeds nearly twice as rapid as can be had here.
The report concludes that the Scottish Government will find it difficult to keep its R100 programme pledge that every home and business in the country will be able to access speeds of 30 megabits per second by the end of 2021.
Though overall connection speeds have increased, around a quarter of those in rural areas such as the Borders still cannot get speeds of 10mbps or more.
More than a fifth of premises here fall short of that target, making the region the seventh worst in Scotland by that criterion.
Those figures have prompted calls to ministers to buck up their act, with Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton saying: “Businesses and residents in my constituency know first hand the problems of accessing fast and reliable broadband.
“The Scottish National Party claim to be delivering superfast broadband to all. We know this simply isn’t the case, and they are trying to pull the wool over Borderers’ eyes.
“Audit Scotland have laid bare the issues of slow broadband speeds, and the SNP cannot run away from the facts.
“We know that the R100 programme completion date has already been pushed back by 12 months, and, with the findings of this report, I am unsure as to whether they can actually deliver what they promising.
“I am glad the report highlights the work of the UK Government on the Borderlands deal business case, which includes telecoms infrastructure investment.”
Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont, a fellow Conservative, agrees, saying: “While Scottish ministers are boasting about how well they are doing, too many residents and businesses in the Borders are still without decent broadband.
“The SNP’s timetable for this gets later and later, and the R100 programme is yet to begin.
“While the UK as a whole has managed to make progress, in Scotland we are still lagging too far behind, and we also know that many properties which are meant to be connected still can’t get superfast broadband.
“The Borders is particularly struggling, with nearly one in five properties still without a decent service. This is simply not good enough, and the SNP’s failure to deliver is holding Scottish businesses back and is unfair for consumers.”
Michelle Ballantyne MSP for South Scotland has highlighted the Audit Scotland report as a concern for businesses and residents in the Borders and has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that internet connectivity in the Borders improves.
South Sctland Tory list MSP Michelle Ballantyne added: “In 2018, the reliability and speed of our internet is as important as the roads that we drive on.
“It’s incredibly important to businesses and residents in the Borders that our internet is up to speed.
“The conclusions from this week’s Audit Scotland report are concerning.
“In order to boost business and improve growth in the Borders, it is essential that our digital connectivity is fit for purpose. Right now this is not the case.
“The Scottish Government must respond to the statistics highlighted in this report and examine how they will improve connectivity in our area.”
The Scottish Government has committed £600m in initial investment to deliver superfast broadband to 147,000 more premises, with contracts to be awarded early next year, but further investment might be required to reach all premises.
Fraser McKinlay, Audit Scotland’s director of performance audit and best value, said: “Fast, reliable internet access is now considered an essential part of everyday life.
“Good progress has been made to date, but the toughest hurdle remains – to extend the benefits to everyone, particularly remote and rural communities.
“As well as being the toughest hurdle, it is not yet clear how the Scottish Government is going to fulfil its pledge to deliver superfast broadband to everyone by the end of 2021.”
Sara Budge, programme director for Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband, is upbeat about the report, however, saying: “We are all delighted with the findings of the Audit Scotland report and its recognition of how far the programme has progressed fibre broadband deployment across the country, starting from a 0% baseline in the Highlands and islands to as little as 25% in the rest of Scotland’s rural local authority areas.
“More than 95% of properties can now access fibre broadband thanks to the programme and commercial coverage.
“Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband has not only met its targets but is on time and under budget.
“It’s a fantastic achievement and, coupled with our innovation, we are extending our rural reach and driving speed uplifts further.
“It’s been a huge collective but very satisfying challenge.
“Over 900,000 homes and business across Scotland can now access fibre broadband thanks to the programme.”
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, an SNP representative, also believes the report offers more cause for celebration than criticism, saying: “Broadband access is in fact a matter reserved to the Tory UK Government. However, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of the Scottish Government, the percentage of premises connected to fibre broadband in the Borders would be 39.3%, rather than the current 91.4%.
“This report recognises that the rollout won’t be easy to deliver, but that is why this SNP Government has matched its ambition for broadband with £600m of investment – the biggest public investment ever made in a UK broadband project.
“I would highlight that the report also praises the Scottish Government for exceeding its target of 95% fibre broadband coverage across Scotland by the end of 2017 and that, due to higher than expected take-up and lower than expected costs, the programme will in fact reach 60,300 more premises than planned at no extra cost to the public sector.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful that, despite being a reserved matter, the UK Government’s funding contribution to R100 is just 3% of the total.
“Perhaps Ms Ballantyne and her Tory colleagues should focus on putting pressure on the Tory UK Government to step up to the plate and better support Scotland’s ambitions.”
To see the report, go to www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/report/superfast-broadband-for-scotland-further-progress-update