Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur has repeated his calls on the Scottish Government to prioritise the islands when rolling out the next phase of high speed broadband amid further reports that the so-called R100 programme is running behind schedule and unlikely to meet the commitment to 100% coverage across Scotland by 2021.
During General Questions in Parliament this afternoon (Wednesday), Mr McArthur reminded the Cabinet Secretary, Michael Matheson that Orkney had one of the lowest levels of broadband coverage in the country. Mr McArthur argued that if the government was unable to meet its 2021 commitment, at the very least those communities that had been waiting longest for any sort of coverage, including many within Orkney, needed to be put to the front of the queue.
In response, Mr Matheson revealed that coverage rates in Orkney are currently 65% compared to a national figure of 93%. Disappointingly, rather than acknowledge the compelling case his own figures made for targeting the early phase of any future roll out to Orkney, the Cabinet Secretary appeared satisfied with the progress made. This contrasted with earlier commitments made by Mr Matheson’s predecessor in the role, Fergus Ewing, to an ‘outward in’ approach which would see outlying areas covered first in any roll out.
Commenting, Liam McArthur said:
“The commitment to deliver high speed broadband to 100% of premises by 2021 is welcome but it is now abundantly clear that this deadline will not be met. Indeed, Ministers have stopped even referring to the deadline.
“It is all the more important, therefore, that priority is given to connecting those communities who have been waiting longest for any sort of service. Good quality, affordable broadband is increasingly critical in accessing services, allowing businesses to compete and enable people to go about their daily lives.
“In the past, the Scottish Government appeared to recognise this and Fergus Ewing, who previously held the post, was always at pains to say that he supported an ‘outside in’ approach during the next phase of the roll out programme. As a Highlands & Islands MSP, Mr Ewing understands the extent to which poor broadband is holding back communities across the region.
“By contrast, Mr Matheson seems happy that Orkney continues to languish significantly behind the level of coverage achieved nationally. As an MSP representing a central belt constituency, perhaps Mr Matheson believes this is just the ‘price you pay’ for living in an island or rural area.
“Whatever the reason, it is unacceptable, the Scottish Government needs to re-commit to prioritising future broadband investment in Orkney and other communities who continue to lag behind when it comes to coverage”.