Government ‘lining Elon Musk’s pockets’ – McArthur

19 Feb 2024
Photo by J. D. Lasica, licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 license.

Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur has accused the Scottish Government of ‘lining Elon Musk’s pockets’ to get itself out of a hole over its broadband commitments.

Having promised to deliver superfast broadband to 100% of premises by 2021, the SNP’s R100 broadband programme remains well behind schedule and unlikely to meet its target of 100%. In light of this failure, Scottish ministers now appear to be using the American tech billionaire’s ‘Starlink’ service to claim superfast broadband is available to all.

Data from Ofcom shows that superfast availability in many Orkney postcodes is 0%, and that every part of Orkney (outside Kirkwall) is in the lowest 10% of areas in the UK for superfast availability and download speeds. However, last month Humza Yousaf claimed that “all homes and businesses in Scotland can currently access a superfast broadband service” during FMQs, prompting Mr McArthur to lodge parliamentary questions seeking clarification of this surprising claim.

In response, small business minister Richard Lochhead told Mr McArthur that Ofcom’s numbers do not include the possibility of accessing internet via Starlink, the satellite internet company run by Elon Musk. The price of the lowest tier Starlink subscription is £75 per month, plus £449 up-front cost for equipment. Average broadband costs in the UK are around £30 per month.

Commenting, Mr McArthur said:

“For years, SNP Ministers have overpromised and underdelivered when it comes to the roll out of superfast broadband. Having originally committed to 100% coverage by 2021, the R100 programme has been beset by delays and problems in delivering to rural and island communities.

“These issues have been widely acknowledged, making it all the more astonishing that the First Minister is now claiming that the commitment has been met. It appears that such a claim is only possible by assuming that Elon Musk’s satellite offering is part of the R100 programme.

“Given the upfront and ongoing monthly subscription costs for Starlink, it is hard to see how the First Minister believes this is remotely ‘accessible’ to most households. It also suggests that Mr Yousaf and his Ministers are happy to line the pockets of the world’s richest man in order to get themselves out of the hole they have dug over the broadband roll out.

“Adding false claims to broken promises will only further undermine trust in the Scottish Government’s ability to make superfast broadband accessible to all, particularly in our rural and island communities, where the need is arguably greatest.”

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