Edward Mointain MSP calls for ‘Off-Grid Thinking’ to resolve broadband issues in remote areas

Edward Mountain MSP is calling on the Scottish Government and BT to work with local internet providers to ensure all households and businesses which will not receive superfast fibre broadband can access the internet via other means.

The Highlands and Islands MSP has made the call following a meeting with HighlandWireless and Cromarty Firth Wireless Network.

Initially, the Scottish Government had made a promise to deliver superfast broadband, known as the R100 programme, to all homes and businesses by 2021.

In January 2020, the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands confirmed that connecting premises to fibre broadband in the north of Scotland would be delayed because of a legal dispute.

The Minister said homes and offices not connected under R100 by 2021 would be eligible for a voucher scheme to help them access commercial broadband services.

Edward Mountain MSP commented:

“I was delighted to meet with Highland Wireless and Cromarty Firth WirelessNetwork, who along with many other companies across the region, provide alternative solutions to those properties outside of the catchment area for R100.

Having a fast and reliable connection to the internet has never been more important. It is vital for NHS Highland’s Near Me project to reach its full potential.

Our health service will remain under significant pressure even after the pandemic ends and the expansion of NHS Near Me will help to ease those pressures.

However, many Highland homes and businesses have been left in limbo because of the legal challenge delaying the North section of the R100 programme.

The Scottish Government has already indicated that a fibre connection will not reach the most remote areas. Given that’s the case, surely we need to see the Scottish Government and BT cooperating with local internet providers to ensure that the areas outside of R100’s catchment area can be connected up. Work on this can and should start now.

We need more clarity on the delays to the R100 programme in the Highlands. Homes and businesses are wary of signing up to alternative internet providers because it remains unclear if BT can deliver broadband in the next few years or if the wait will be far longer.

We also need to have a level playing field when it comes to incentivising the spread of new installations for the internet. Rates relief is available for new fibre installations, so it should follow that alternative providers of internet, such as those who install masts, should receive rates relief too.

It’s now time for this Scottish Government to offer some ‘off-grid thinking’ and pull all resources together, national and local, so that remote homes and businesses can access the internet.”