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Scottish Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesperson Beatrice Wishart MSP has today called for a rethink of the SNP’s broadband rollout aimed at hard-to-reach areas of Scotland.

Wishart said the voucher scheme has patently failed after a parliamentary question revealed that the government’s Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme has helped to connect just 3.6% of properties in eligible areas.

The vouchers of up to £5,000 are available to homes and businesses with speeds less than 30Mbps that have been left out of the Scottish Government’s R100 superfast broadband-for-all and other commercial broadband investment.

In April 2022, the then Finance Secretary Kate Forbes revealed that 83,855 homes and businesses were eligible for support.

In response to a new parliamentary question from Ms Wishart, however, the Scottish Government confirmed that just 3,047 vouchers have been issued.

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.

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."

On Friday 28 July the minister for small business, trade and innovation, Richard Lochhead, gave a written response to a question from Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron, in which he acknowledged that R100 contract work, scheduled for completion by 2021, won't even begin in the Western Isles until 2025.

From that date, he said, connection would begin for 2,206 properties in the Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituency under the R100 contract, with live connections planned to be available through 2026, 2027 and 2028.

Superfast broadband coverage in the Western Isles has been lifted from just 1.3% in 2015 to the present figure of 80.5%, through preceding connection schemes.

Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said that it emerged in June 2023 that not a single business or residential property in the Western Isles had been connected through the R100 programme.

Some island customers are eligible for the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme, but it’s up to people and businesses to pursue that and, as of June 2023, no-one had applied the voucher scheme in the Western Isles.

The Reaching 100% (R100) project promised to deliver high-speed broadband to every part of the country, with isles MSP Alasdair Allan saying in 2017: “Uniquely in the UK, the Scottish Government has given a commitment that 100% of properties across Scotland will have access to superfast broadband by 2021.”