The Scottish Government has been urged to explain “another unacceptable delay” to a flagship scheme meant to pipe faster internet to 60,000 properties across northern Scotland.
The Reaching 100 (R100) programme was announced by the SNP Government in 2017 and was due to finish by the end of 2021.
However, earlier this year it emerged the northern part of the rollout is not due to be completed until 2026 – four years behind schedule.
Information released under freedom of information reveals the Scottish Government’s commitment to the rollout has slipped again to the end of the 2026-27 financial year, almost a decade since the original announcement.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the “vast majority” of work in the north of Scotland will be completed by the end of 2026 but would not comment on the reason for the slip in timeline to the end of the financial year.
Aberdeenshire West MSP Alexander Burnett said: “The SNP government has quietly admitted to the high probability of another unacceptable delay for the north lot of R100.
“That’s the largest part, representing the rural communities most in need of better broadband.
“Many businesses and residents across my constituency, in line with so many across northern Scotland, have been isolated during the pandemic because of how ineffective R100 has been.
“2027 would be a catastrophe for the rural economy”.
Delivered by Openreach, on behalf of BT, the project ultimately aims to make superfast broadband available across the country.
Polling by Survation for DC Thomson, carried out ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament election, found broadband connectivity is a key issue for many rural areas.
A bidding war between BT and Gigaclear, which BT won, was blamed as the cause for the initial delay for the northern scheme, which takes in areas including the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, some parts of Perthshire, and the islands.
In March, the Scottish Government, in response to a freedom of information request, said “at contract signature the expected build completion date of the R100 Lot 1 (North lot) was 31 December 2026”.
However, in October the Scottish Government responded to a further request for information and said it expects the build to be “completed during the financial year 2026/27”.
‘Proceeding at pace’
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed in last week’s budget that £8 million will be set aside to deliver full fibre broadband to 3,600 premises in Scotland, including Aberdeenshire, Angus, the Highlands, Moray and Perth and Kinross.
The premises identified – which all have sub-superfast speeds below 30 megabits per second – will be given access to next generation broadband through the UK Government’s Project Gigabit.
These homes and businesses were due to be upgraded to superfast broadband as part of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme.
But as a result of a new agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, these areas will gain access to even faster full fibre broadband.
A Scottish Government spokesman said delivery of the programme is “proceeding at pace” and it expects the “vast majority” of the work in the north of Scotland and islands to be completed by the “end of 2026”.
He added: “We continue to work closely with Openreach to accelerate deployment wherever possible.
“Despite telecoms legislation being reserved to the UK Government, we are investing £384 million to extend fast, reliable broadband to over 59,000 homes and businesses across the north of Scotland and islands, delivering infrastructure which far exceeds our superfast commitment.
“Providing a high standard of digital connectivity is at the heart of our plans for a resilient, green economic recovery from coronavirus (Covid-19).
“Through a combination of commercial build, our R100 contracts and our R100 Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme, which offers a subsidy of up to £5,000 to secure a superfast broadband connection, we will ensure our 100% commitment is achieved.”