Better internet for Borders will be slower coming but faster once it arrives, minister reveals

Scottish Government chiefs have admitted defeat in their efforts to provide blanket coverage of superfast broadband in the Borders and nationwide by the end of next year, pushing that timetable back to 2023.

Monday, 13th January 2020, 6:58 pm
Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton MSP watching fibre broadband cables being fitted in Kelso.

They have also had to abandon plans to provide speedier internet to all properties in the south of the country, settling instead for 99%.

On the plus side, though, that means only 200 premises across the region will miss out and, in many parts of Scotland, the internet to be provided will be speedier than first promised.

The rollout of future-proofed full-fibre broadband means many premises set to benefit from the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% Broadband (R100) programme will be able to access speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second instead of the 30 megabits originally proposed, minister for connectivity Paul Wheelhouse has revealed.

Connectivity minister and list MSP Paul Wheelhouse.

Updating parliament on the progress being made on the R100 programme, Mr Wheelhouse, a Hawick-based Scottish National Party list MSP for South Scotland, said: “This rollout means Scotland will have enhanced digital connectivity years ahead of the rest of the UK.

“Through our investment, we will extend full-fibre broadband to much of rural Scotland, going beyond our original commitment and helping to deliver future-proofed economic, social and environmental benefits for the whole country.

“This is one of the most challenging broadband infrastructure builds anywhere in the world, and this, combined with the decision to future-proof our technology, means the work will take time to complete.

“There is no doubt that rural Scotland has perennially had to play catch-up to the rest of the UK when it has come to digital connectivity and prior waves of telecommunications investment.

“The work to date will ensure that – for the first time – Scotland is ahead of the curve, not just in the UK but internationally.

“The R100 programme is a prime example of how the Scottish Government is using devolved economic development powers to mitigate and resolve a market failure that has arisen in what is, for now, a reserved policy area – telecommunications.

“This government will extend full-fibre broadband across the length and breadth of rural Scotland.

“We will deliver a huge number of full-fibre connections in what are amongst the most challenging locations anywhere in the UK and Europe, and for most of those benefiting, we will greatly exceed our 30 megabits per second superfast commitment.

“R100 will help deliver social, economic and environmental benefits for all of Scotland, enabling innovation and the creation of highly-skilled jobs; opening up remote working, social and leisure opportunities; delivering digital health and other new public services; and reducing travel, including the need to commute.”

A voucher scheme will be launched to enable properties otherwise facing a long wait for better broadband to get it from other sources such as satellite operators.

Mr Wheelhouse’s pledge that though faster broadband will be slower in arriving, it will be speedier than originally promised once it finally arrives has not met with universal acclaim.

During questions put to Mr Wheelhouse after its update, South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth told him: “The minister has confirmed the worst-kept secret – the government’s R100 programme, irrespective of the promised speed of 30Mbps or more, was never ever going to be reached by the end of 2021.

“The manifesto commitment was made in haste, but it was reneged on painfully slowly.

“We still do not have a timetable for when the commitment will be reached.”

Speaking after last Thursday’s announcement, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton was also critical, saying: “The ministerial statement announced that fibre rollout would only reach half of premises in the south region (12,000) by the end of 2021 despite the previous commitment for 100% of premises to have that completed by the end of the same year.

“I am not surprised the rollout of fibre broadband has been delayed as, time and again, the SNP make big promises but always fail to deliver on them.

“The Borders always misses out when it comes to accessing reliable broadband speeds and just because we are a rural area, that shouldn’t mean we are left behind.

“A voucher scheme to help those who cannot access fibre broadband in the meantime will no doubt be an administrative and bureaucratic process, causing more delays.

“This will be the year the SNP’s diabolical record will come to roost.

“When it comes to the SNP and broadband, they blame Westminster for all their faults, yet they have been in charge of the project for years now.”