The SNP has claimed the UK government is refusing to agree to prioritize rural and island communities in Scotland when rolling out a new £5billion superfast broadband scheme.
Economy Secretary Kate Forbes feared that current ‘Project Gigabit’ plans would create a new, more entrenched ‘digital divide’ unless Tory ministers changed course.
In a letter to a Holyrood committee, she said the Scottish government was still trying to find details of the national share of the money and a timetable for when it would be available.
But she claimed Tory ministers had insisted there would be ‘no flexibility’ for Scotland to direct the money to areas suffering the worst connections.
Around 46% of UK premises have a gigabit broadband connection capable of supporting download speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second.
The Westminster government is aiming for 99% by 2030, with 85% achieved by 2025.
Gigabit Project is designed to subsidize the “hardest to reach” 20% of the country that will not be covered by private investment.
In a letter At Holyrood’s economy committee, Ms Forbes has now raised concerns about the investment rollout north of the border.
“It is vital that Scotland benefits from the UK Government’s £5 billion Gigabit project, which we believe could be rolled out effectively alongside the delivery of R100,” she said.
“As things stand, there is no idea how much of the £5billion will be allocated to Scotland and no timeline to make such a commitment.
“Furthermore, we understand that the UK government’s preferred approach to the project
Gigabit is targeting the cheapest and easiest-to-access premises across the UK, at
at the expense of more expensive rural premises.
“This would see Project Gigabit have much less impact in Scotland, where we have disproportionately more rural premises than other parts of the UK.”
The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP said it had written to UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez MP and Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove about the matter.
But Ms Forbes had been ‘disappointed’ with their responses, which she said
seems to confirm that there will be “no flexibility for Scotland”.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee reported in January that he was “unconvinced” that the UK government was on track to meet its Project Gigabit goals.
The group of MPs said they relied too heavily on commercial suppliers rather than prioritizing hard-to-reach areas.
In her letter, Ms Forbes said: “Having seen the transformational impact our R100 investment is having on rural island and remote communities, we will continue to advocate for flexibility, which would ensure that access to gigabit can be extended to those who need it most. need future-proof connectivity.
“A new, more entrenched digital divide”
“Without it, Project Gigabit will not deliver what the public expects and is, in fact,
more likely to lead to a new, more entrenched digital divide between gigabit haves and have-nots.
A spokeswoman for the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: ‘A UK-wide scheme has seen £100million spent to connect 740,000 locals in Scotland ultra-fast broadband.
“Now our new £5 billion Gigabit project is specifically aimed at ensuring that hard-to-reach areas don’t miss out on even faster gigabit speeds.
“It will connect thousands of additional homes and businesses in Scotland that the Scottish Government’s R100 program and commercial providers cannot cover.
“Locations will be determined by gaps once R100 areas are confirmed and by the number of premises still in need.
“We cannot define a final funding allocation until these areas have been identified, but we are evaluating options – including wireless or satellites – to connect a small number of very difficult to reach areas that may be too difficult to reach with full fiber optic broadband. .”
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[SNP accuse Tories of blocking bid for major rural broadband investment]