Nicola Sturgeon pledged ahead of the 2016 Holyrood election to “deliver 100 percent superfast broadband coverage” by spring 2021. However, Scotland’s Auditor General, Stephen Boyle, has found that the devolved administration is woefully off target.
Out of the 112,000 homes and businesses eligible, more than 100,000 are yet to be connected.
The slow rollout has sparked a backlash from all of the major opposition parties in the Holyrood Parliament.
Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton said: “The SNP have miserably failed to match their rhetoric with delivery when it comes to broadband.
“They were nowhere near meeting their targets set for the end of last year and now a shamefully high number of our rural and remote communities will have to wait many more years to be connected.
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“The SNP slashed the digital infrastructure budget in recent years, which was destined to cause further delays.
“They promised big but have severely under-delivered on this flagship programme.
“As we recover from the pandemic, it is absolutely crucial that individuals and businesses are connected as quickly as possible.
“Right now, there is a real danger SNP ministers are going to leave our rural and remote areas lagging behind even further due to a complete lack of connectivity in these communities.”
The Lib Dem’s Jamie Stone accused the Scottish government of treating the Far North as an “afterthought”, with communities stuck with “stone age broadband connections”.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Colin Smyth said: “The last two years have shown that reliable connectivity is a necessity, not a luxury – but for Scotland’s forgotten rural communities it’s been a case of super slow, not superfast broadband roll-out.”
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Audit Scotland said the R100 broadband programme had got off to “a slow start” and that many homes in rural Scotland would be waiting years for the SNP to fulfil their obligation.
“Many of these are in the hardest to reach locations, with the majority in the North.
“Connecting these remaining premises will be challenging and expensive,” the watchdog said.
“Build in some areas will continue until 2026/27 which means some households and businesses may continue to miss out on a reliable connection until then.”
While it warned it would take another five years for the pledge to be met, it praised the Scottish Government for the rollout of superfast broadband for the majority of the country.
Ministers met their previous target to provide access to fibre broadband to 95 percent of premises by the end of 2017.
A Scottish Government spokesperson defended the Superfast Broadband programme, saying “excellent progress” had been made on digital infrastructure projects.
They said the new projected completion date and cost “reflects the scale of the engineering challenge of delivering full-fibre broadband to Scotland’s hardest-to-reach communities”.
“We welcome Audit Scotland’s recognition of significant improvements in broadband coverage and speed,” the spokesperson added.