McArthur: R100 subsea build must guarantee universal coverage

Following the Scottish Government’s announcement that work to lay new subsea cables to supply superfast broadband to the islands will begin this Spring, Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur has called for guarantees that the project will indeed ensure 100% coverage for all islanders.

Detailed groundwork to start planning the cable routes to fifteen island communities, including for Eday, Flotta, Hoy, Rousay, Sanday, Shapinsay and Stronsay, is expected to commence in May.

However, no specific details about how many households will benefit from the project have been made available.  So far, the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse has stated that the Scottish Government’s 100% superfast commitment will be met with the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme.

Mr McArthur is therefore calling on Scottish Ministers to provide clarification for how many households are expected to see improved coverage as a result of the subsea cable build or if some parts of the islands will still have to depend on accessing the voucher scheme, which would fall short of what was initially promised.

Responding to the announcement, Mr McArthur said:

“The Scottish Government made a clear commitment to rural and island communities that 100% superfast broadband coverage would be achieved through the R100 Programme. As we know, however, it is already well behind schedule and won’t be delivered by 2021 as previously promised.

“Whilst news that survey work for laying new subsea cables will begin shortly is welcome, it remains unclear how many households will directly benefit from this project.  It would make little sense for subsea cables to be laid and then not to complete the job once the cables make landfall.

“If extending fibre to cover all premises on each of the islands requires additional resources, Ministers need to consider how this can be secured. The UK Government’s Gigabit project offers the chance to draw down extra funding and this should be targeted at areas, such as Orkney, where broadband coverage remains well below the national average.

“R100 provides an opportunity, at long last, to put in the digital infrastructure our islands need. We now need a firm guarantee from the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse that the government will not leave the job incomplete or patched up”.

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