Shetlanders quoted £725,000 to connect to broadband, says MSP

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Shetlanders were quoted more than £700,000 to connect just 15 properties to broadband, the MSP for the islands has said.

In a letter to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, Beatrice Wishart condemned poor connectivity on the islands, describing the Government’s R100 programme as a “missed opportunity”.

The programme aimed to boost connectivity in rural areas but completion has been delayed from 2021 to 2027.

Ms Wishart said 1,847 properties on the islands are outside the scope of the R100 programme and any commercial investment that could lead to connection, meaning they would have to rely on the Scottish broadband voucher scheme (SBVS) to help with costs.

The scheme offers a one-off subsidy of up to £5,000 to help aid connection, but just four in Shetland have been granted and one of those has yet to be supplied, according to a parliamentary answer to Ms Wishart last month.

Beatrice Wishart and Willie Rennie in Holyrood
MSP Beatrice Wishart wrote to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes (Andrew Milligan/PA)

She said in her letter to the Finance Secretary: “Out of more than 1,800 properties only four applications have been received for the main voucher, and only three have so far been issued.

“For those that need a fibre connection the quoted costs from commercial providers are beyond belief.

“A constituent has shared with me a recent quote from BT of £725,000.

“This is after the deduction of support grants from Ofcom and works out to around £48,000 each for the 15 properties in the community. This is clearly unaffordable.

“The communication infrastructure across Shetland needs upgrading for the digital world and R100 has proven to be a missed opportunity for many of my constituents.”

According to BT, the quote was made under the broadband universal service obligation (USO) which was introduced by the UK Government in 2018 and gives properties the right to request a good internet connection at an affordable monthly cost.

However, residents have to pay the extra cost if it exceeds the £3,400 contribution from BT.

A spokesman for BT said: “The universal service obligation scheme obliges BT to provide a quote for the cost of delivering a broadband solution to customers.

“Quotes reflect the physical cost of delivering that solution and sometimes, as a result, can be unavoidably high.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has connected nearly a million premises to faster broadband through public sector investment worth an estimated £311 million – including more than 9,000 premises on the Shetland Islands – despite telecoms powers being reserved to the UK Government.

“The £600 million R100 contracts will deliver connections to more than 112,000 properties across Scotland and work to deliver faster broadband to the islands is progressing at pace.

“Since its launch in September 2020, the R100 SBVS has delivered more than 2,200 connections, with another 1,000 in the pipeline.

“As a demand-led scheme, it is ultimately a decision for members of the public whether to secure their connection in this way.”

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