Kate Forbes tells committee Scotland cannot 'keep picking up the tab' on connecting 'hardest' parts of the country
The Scottish Government cannot keep “picking up the tab” on connecting the “hardest” parts of Scotland to gigabyte-speed broadband, Kate Forbes has said.
The Secretary for Finance and the Economy updated the Economy and Fair Work Committee on the work being done to deliver super-fast Wi-Fi connectivity to areas that are deemed difficult.
Forbes criticised the UK Government's approach to £5bn Project Gigabyte, which aims to provide gigabyte speed broadband to every UK home. And she said that the approach south of the border risks worsening digital inequality between perceived harder and easier areas.
Scotland’s approach, R100, has been quite different, according to Forbes: “We start with the hardest first, working backwards, rather than do what Project Gigabyte is doing, which is the cheapest, commercially easy, first.”
Of the £600m investment into R100, £384m has been allocated to the north of Scotland, which is considered to have some of the most difficult places to install super-fast broadband.
Forbes said: “Quite clearly all of us have an interest in connecting the hardest to reach areas. If it costs more than £7,000 per property, we need to complete that job, but having invested £600m already from the Scottish Government’s budget into a reserved issue we simply cannot keep picking up the tab.”
The installation of underwater fibre optic cables by Openreach is underway that aims to bring lightning-fast speeds to 15 of Scotland’s islands.
However, when a Shetland resident enquired about adding 15 properties to the broadband grid they were quoted £725,000 by BT.
Homeowners are able to receive a grant of up to £5,000 on the Scottish broadband voucher scheme (SBVS). As of the start of June there were only 2,200 grants delivered to Scots, while another 1,000 are waiting to receieve theirs.
When Forbes was asked by Alexander Burnett MSP on the lack of success, she said: “I do not have an answer for its unattractiveness. There is no significant reason given either anecdotally, or through feedback as to why it was not taken up by more people.”
On the topic of 4G infill mast programme, Robert McGhee, Deputy Director of Digital Connectivity for the Scottish Government told the committee that as well as the 28 constructed under the plan, there are “20 towers being built”.
He added: “We have outstripped that 45 [mast] target and we are really pleased about that."