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Settling of court case paves the way for remote Highland households to get superfast broadband but critics warn of delays


By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Edward Mountain, the convener of the rural economy and connectivity committee, questioned the timeline for delivering R100.
MSP Edward Mountain, the convener of the rural economy and connectivity committee, questioned the timeline for delivering R100.

Delivery of superfast broadband in the Highlands has taken a sudden and dramatic step closer to being delivered after the court case holding up progress was “settled.”

The Scottish Government confirmed the development which paves the way for BT to take on the contract to deliver broadband to approximately 100,000 premises across the north of Scotland and the islands.

Litigation stalled the Scottish Government’s R100 scheme when one of the bidders, Gigaclear, took the government to court over what it claimed was a “manifest error” in the procurement process.

The case concerned Lot 1 which was not just the largest geographically – it includes the Highlands, the islands, Angus, Aberdeen and Dundee – but also the largest financially with a price tag of £384 million and includes the Highlands.

Few details surrounding the conclusion of the case were available due to concerns about commercial sensitivity but it is now clear that BT will get the contract to roll-out broadband with connection speeds of 30Mbps.

The investment will provide a massive boost for thousands of businesses and households to get online as well as likely providing a considerable economic boost in terms of employment and investment in the local economy.

Conservative MSP Edward Mountain is already calling for the government to move ahead at pace to get people online, as the scheme has already significantly late and will not be delivered by the 2021 deadline.

“Now that the legal dispute has been resolved, it’s vital that this SNP Government awards the contract to deliver R100 in the Highlands now,” he said.

“The SNP broke their election promise to deliver superfast broadband to all by 2021 and Highlanders still don’t know when work will get underway.

“I have lodged questions to the SNP Government to ask when work will begin and when the R100 project will be completed. Highlanders, who have waited so long for superfast broadband, deserve to have these questions answered.

“Our region desperately needs reliable internet and I am pressing the SNP government to act swiftly. If they don’t, delivery by 2026/27 looks increasingly unlikely.”

An Openreach spokesperson said: “We’re very pleased the legal action has been resolved and we can now move toward signing contracts which will allow detailed survey work to start in the North of Scotland.”

A Scottish Government Spokesperson said: “We can confirm that agreement has been reached on this matter and we will now focus on finalising the North Lot contract to enable us to, as quickly as possible, progress delivery of access to superfast broadband to people, businesses and communities in some of the most remote parts of Scotland.”

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