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Is Scotland’s Broadband Scheme Failing Its Rural Communities?



The Scottish Government’s broadband rollout scheme, R100, is facing backlash after its lacklustre attempt to bridge the digital divide effecting Scotland’s rural and remote communities.

Last week the Scottish Government had released an update on the progress of their Reaching 100% (R100) programme in partnership with Openreach (BT), which aimed to ensure that every home and business in Scotland can access superfast broadband.

The project, launched in 2017, was propped up by a vouchers scheme offering financial help tp Scottish households and businesses to access superfast broadband, which would be defined at reaching 30 Mbps.

While over 95% of Scottish premises have access to a network capable of this, the Government missed its target of 100% coverage by 2021, and its voucher programme is still not reaching those who need it most.

A parliamentary question brough up by the Scottish Liberal Democrats party has found that the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme has only helped to connect 3.6% of properties in eligible hard-to-reach areas.

The vouchers of up to £5,000 are available to homes and businesses with less than 30Mbps that have been left out of the R100 and planned commercial advancement.

While 83,855 homes and businesses were found to be eligible for support in 2022, only 3,047 vouchers have been issued.

Scottish LibDem rural affairs spokesperson Beatrice Wishart has called out the Scottish government for their failure to support rural communities in providing effective access to the voucher scheme.

“Everyone should have the digital tools they need to start a business, secure an education or access an online medical appointment no matter where they live,” Wishart said.

The rural divide in broadband and digital access continues to effect business, education, and quality of life inequalities. As the world turns ever-more digital, Scotland risks leaving behind its more remote communities in its sprawling highlands and distant islands.

“A reliable internet connection is a modern day essential, yet the voucher scheme is the Scottish Government’s Plan B,” Wishard critiqued.

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“Neither SNP plan to reach all homes with highspeed broadband has worked and a rethink is needed.

“Much is made of ensuring no one gets left behind but the fact is in island and rural areas they have been and vouchers are no alternative to those who are not reached by R100.

“People might be aware of the voucher scheme but on balance choose not to go down that route. The voucher scheme has never been good enough to plug gaps and connect those households and businesses left out of the original scheme.”

While Westminster is technically the overarching authority on Scottish broadband, local and devolved authorities can and do make their own investments in connectivity developments.

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