The northern part of the Scottish Government’s superfast broadband rollout will not be finished until 2026, four years later than originally planned.
Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for connectivity, said the R100 scheme will take longer than the government had initially hoped but will ultimately deliver faster speeds for customers.
R100 was meant to deliver superfast broadband to 100% of premises by the end of 2021.
A legal challenge involving a bidder for the programme caused delays before the case was settled last year, allowing the £384m investment in the northern lot – covering the Highlands, Aberdeen and Dundee – to go ahead.
Speaking to MSPs on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on Wednesday, Wheelhouse said many premises will be able to access speeds of up to 1000 megabits a second instead of the 30 megabits originally proposed.
Committee convener Edward Mountain asked the minister: “Did I get the impression that lot one of R100 will be complete by 2026?”
Wheelhouse replied: “That is what we were assuming at the time the contract award was made to BT, as I say BT are trying to accelerate that.
“The vast majority of the build would be earlier than that.
“But yes that’s correct, 2026 is what we’re starting from.”
Mountain responded by saying: “That will be bitterly disappointing to people in the Highlands who were expecting it in 2021, indeed were promised it in 2021 by your predecessor.”
Wheelhouse said at least 86% of premises in the northern lot would have a full-fibre connection, providing much faster speeds than the original “superfast” service.
He said: “It’s a future-proof solution. As I said at the time we made the announcement, I think it’s the right thing to do.
“I appreciate we take a hit for a programme that takes longer, but it is the right thing to do.”
He said telecommunications are a reserved matter and the Scottish Government has chosen to step in where the market had failed to provide customers with adequate services.
MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston also asked about the delay to the completion target for R100, saying Wheelhouse’s predecessor Fergus Ewing had said he would resign if the target was not met.
Wheelhouse said he understands the “frustration” people may have, but added: “We are trying to intervene to fix a problem we didn’t create.
“It will take longer than originally forecast.
“When Mr Ewing was in charge the commitment was superfast, through procurement we’ve been able to deliver something better.
“I take that on the chin, but we’ve ended up with a different outcome than perhaps Mr Ewing anticipated.
“I’ve made a conscious decision as minister to go for a future-proof solution.”