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Ministers urged to rethink ‘failed’ broadband roll-out

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Vouchers are not speeding up broadband take-up, say Liberal Democrats

SNP ministers are being urged to “rethink” a rural broadband initiative after new data revealed that ojnly 3.6% of eligible properties in hard to reach areas have taken up a voucher scheme.

The Scottish Government launched its R100 programme in 2017 to bring fast internet connections to homes and businesses by the end of 2021.

Ministers said 83,855 homes and businesses were eligible for support through the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme worth up to £5,000.

However, the Liberal Democrats have found that just 3,047 vouchers have been issued and the party’s rural affairs spokesperson Beatrice Wishart has called for a review of the programme. Ms Wishart said the voucher scheme has “patently failed”.

Ms Wishart and Alistair Carmichael MP recently hosted a Northern Isles Digital Forum in Shetland which bought together stakeholders and the public to discuss digital connectivity in the isles.

In a statement issued yesterday, Ms Wishart said: “A reliable internet connection is a modern day essential, yet the voucher scheme is the Scottish Government’s Plan B. 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.

“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.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see a fresh push to connect every home up to a superfast connection to support business growth, education and public services in all areas.”

In answer to Ms Wishart’s parliamentary question, Rural Minister Richard Lochhead said: “Our latest figures show that a total of 3,047 vouchers have been paid out at an average cost of £1,858.99 per voucher. This consists of 1,079 interim vouchers at an average of £389.24 per voucher, and 1,968 main vouchers at an average of £2,884.81 per voucher.”

The Scottish government insists the roll-out is being delivered “at pace” and that some connections are ahead of schedule.

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