SNP ministers have been urged to “rethink” their troubled rural broadband scheme after it was revealed less than 4% of eligible properties have taken up a voucher aimed at those missing out on the key policy.

The Scottish Government’s R100 rural broadband programme was launched in 2017 and aimed to bring fast internet connections to thousands of homes and businesses by the end of 2021.

But despite being delayed until 2028, last month, First Minister Humza Yousaf insisted the policy remains “on track”.

In April 2022, then-finance secretary Kate Forbes revealed that 83,855 homes and businesses were eligible for support through the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme.

The vouchers of up to £5,000 are available to homes and businesses with speeds less than 30Mbps that have been left out of the R100 rollout.

But new statistics from the Scottish Government show that just 3,047 vouchers have been issued to the 83,855 eligible properties – a take-up of just 3.6%.

Research by the Federation of Small Businesses found that six out of 10 firms would have applied had they known about the voucher scheme.

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Scottish LibDems rural affairs spokesperson and Shetland MSP, Beatrice Wishart, has today called for a rethink of the SNP’s broadband rollout.

Ms Wishart said: “A reliable internet connection is a modern-day essential, yet the voucher scheme is the Scottish Government’s Plan B. Neither SNP plan to reach all homes with highspeed broadband has worked and a rethink is needed.

“Much is made of ensuring no one gets left behind but the fact is in island and rural areas they have been and vouchers are no alternative to those who are not reached by R100.”

She added: “People might be aware of the voucher scheme but on balance choose not to go down that route. The voucher scheme has never been good enough to plug gaps and connect those households and businesses left out of the original scheme.

“Everyone should have the digital tools they need to start a business, secure an education or access an online medical appointment no matter where they live.

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“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see a fresh push to connect every home up to a superfast connection to support business growth, education and public services in all areas."

Colin Borland, the director of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses, has warned that “the way that business is being done is changing”.

He said: “The adoption of digital technology to enhance productivity, an increase in e-commerce and the fact that more day-to-day and Government services, such as tax returns, are being delivered online, makes it vital that we have quick, reliable digital infrastructure – broadband and mobile – right across the country.

“Not only does a comprehensive broadband and mobile data network allow small businesses, rural and urban, to carry out their everyday business, it also helps to drive growth and create jobs.”

Mr Borland added: “Improving digital infrastructure across Scotland therefore needs to be a priority. However, in our recent big small business survey, we found that only 3.4% of Scottish respondents had applied for the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme, but nearly six in ten said that, if they had known about the scheme, they would have applied.

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“This lack of awareness is worrying and FSB will continue to work with stakeholder partners, such as Openreach, to highlight to our members, and the wider community, the support that is available.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “R100 continues to deliver at pace, as evidenced by the connection of Fair Isle in the Shetland Islands nearly two years ahead of schedule and remains on track to complete build and ensure all contracted premises are connected by 2028.

“We will support this with record investment of £140 million in 2024/25.

“We have always been clear that our 100% commitment would be delivered in a variety of ways, with the demand-led R100 Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme (SBVS) designed to support those not included within an R100 contract or commercial plan.

“The voucher provides a subsidy of up to £5,000 to cover all direct installation costs. Over 3,600 homes and businesses across Scotland are already benefitting from the R100 SBVS with another 600 in the pipeline, ensuring residents in our hardest-to-reach communities have access to superfast broadband speeds.”