by Simon Johnson and Scottish Political Editor, The Telegraph, December 4, 2017
The owners of one of rural Scotland’s most popular hotels for walkers and climbers has attacked the dire speed of broadband it can access after being asked to pay £80,000 to get a good connection.
Lesley McArthur, a partner in the Glen Clova Hotel in Angus, said it is forced to make do with an internet speed of only 0.5mbps and the connection disappears altogether if more than one guest decides to log on.
She argued that the remote hotel, which attracts hill walkers across the UK, makes a significant contribution to the local economy but in September was quoted the “absolutely ridiculous” sum of £80,000 by BT for a fibre-optic line.
Although Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that every premises will have superfast broadband with a speed of 30mbps by 2021, she said that the hotel could have lost “a lot of business” by the time this happens.
Her intervention came as Scotland’s 12 backbench Tory MPs wrote a joint letter to the First Minister asking her to explain why £20 million of UK Government money given to her administration in 2014 for the second phase of broadband rollout has yet to be spent.
They challenged her to admit Scotland is behind every English local authority, some of which are already on the third phase, Wales and Northern Ireland. The dozen MPs added: “To be clear, we are not disputing what you have done. We are criticising what you have not done.”
Matt Hancock, the Digital Minister, has told the Telegraph he is “fed up” with the SNP’s performance and will start handing funds directly to Scottish councils.
Although superfast broadband is reserved to Westminster, the devolved administrations have responsibility for the roll-out in areas where providers such as BT and Virgin are unwilling to provide it on a commercial basis.
Ms Sturgeon took to Twitter for the second time in a week to defend her administration’s record, arguing that it is investing far more than the UK Government. However, she ignored the MPs’ question about why it has not started procuring the phase two contracts.
Fergus Ewing, the Rural Economy Minister, has insisted it was “completely untrue” that Scotland is lagging behind. In a series of 32 tweets covering every council area, he said the proportion of premises in Angus with superfast broadband stands at 88 per cent.
The Glen Clova Hotel is owned by Ms McArthur’s father, Hugh Niven, and the 32-year-old has been involved in its running since 2010.
The mother-of-two said the hotel was appealing to a “much wider audience these days” than just walkers, with people staying in its lodges wanting to connect to sites like Facebook and Instagram and “actually promote our business to their friends.”
“They can’t even do that. We can barely give them a decent wifi. It’s 0.5mbps that we get off the BT line, which is bloody slow,” she said.
“However, as soon as the second person or even a third person comes along and tries to connect to it, it just completely zaps it altogether and sometimes our speed is determined by how many people in the glen are using it.”
Ms McArthur said she rejected the £80,000 quote from BT, which did not include digging a trench so the line could be laid. She said “our business is contributing a huge amount to the local economy” but “we’re too far out for them to even bother about us.”
However, she said that premises in Arbroath, the largest town in her constituency, are also suffering from a poor service. Ms Hair added: “It’s all very well the SNP patting themselves on the back all the time but it’s not helpful for my constituents.”Kirstene Hair, the Conservative MP for Angus, has taken up the case and raised the Scottish Government’s broadband performance with Theresa May.
Iain Gray, the Labour MSP for East Lothian, mocked Mr Ewing over his “amazing multiple tweet defence of the SNP record”. He tweeted: “Their BB (broadband) delivery has been dire, as every MSP, especially rural MSP knows.”
Ms Sturgeon will defend her government’s record again at Thursday's First Minister’s Questions. She tweeted that her administration, councils and Highlands and Enterprise have spent £163 million getting broadband to 95 per cent of premises by the end of this year.
She added that her administration is about to spend hundreds of millions more getting it to all premises by May 2021, “which is a commitment the UK government has not even made for the rest of the UK.
A BT Group spokesman said: “We’re working in partnership with the public sector to reach many parts of rural Scotland which would not have received fibre broadband on a commercial basis.
"Due to Scotland’s geography and population dispersal, it’s the most challenging broadband roll-out in the UK if not Europe."
This article was written by Simon Johnson and Scottish Political Editor from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].