Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has spoken out in Parliament on the need for greater energy in the rollout of high-speed broadband for the isles. Speaking in a debate on the “digital divide”, Mr Carmichael highlighted the disparity of service between the isles and other parts of the UK, and noted that once again the deadline for completion of the R100 programme had been pushed back with no notice or explanation, as reported by the Press and Journal yesterday.
Speaking in Parliament, Mr Carmichael said:
“To explain the scale of what we are talking about, in Orkney we have 65.93% superfast coverage—that is 30 megabits—and 1.48% full fibre. In Shetland, the comparable figures are 75.26% and 1.5%, and for Scotland as a whole they are 94.8% and 28.01%. When we talk about digital divides, I do not think there is a better illustration of the nature and extent of that divide than in these figures for the Northern Isles.
“It was revealed today, in The Press and Journal, that the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% (R100) target is being put back to the end of 2026 and into 2027 for completion. The target was set in 2017, and it was originally to be completed by 2021. That means that it will have been a full 10 years before we get that level of connectivity.
“I do not think that it demonstrates a great deal of respect for the communities I represent for this to come into the public domain because a newspaper has put in a Freedom of Information request to get that data. When asked by The Press and Journal, a Scottish Government spokesperson refused to comment. We do not even know why we are running up against this extension to an already over-extended deadline.
“However, I must also say that our experience regarding the Universal Service Obligation has been less than fruitful. For a connection under the USO, my constituents are quoted tens of thousands of pounds. When we spoke about the creation of a “universal service”, I do not think anybody imagined that.
“We have two Governments in Scotland both spending taxpayers’ money, and the two schemes surely could be made to work better than this. There surely is no reason why they should be set up effectively in competition. At the end of the day, I do not care which flag is on the box that eventually arrives; all we care about is that we have meaningful connectivity.”