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The Scottish National Party (SNP) has defended its commitment to boosting broadband connectivity in Scotland, following criticism from Westminster.

Last month, UK Digital Minister Matt Hancock told the Telegraph that Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to superfast broadband.

Furthermore, he said the UK government is so "fed up with the Scottish government's poor performance" that it plans to hand millions of pounds for a new fibre broadband rollout directly to Scottish councils, rather than to the SNP.

The SNP's Rural Economy Minister Fergus Ewing has therefore responded by insisting the Scottish government has pledged to deliver 100 per cent superfast broadband access by 2021.

He described this as a "commitment that does not exist anywhere else in the UK" and refuted the claim that the Scotland is lagging behind authorities in England.

Mr Hancock had said the SNP is "three years behind" the rest of the UK, with the party yet to sign the contracts regarding the second phase of the broadband rollout at a time when English councils are preparing for phase three.

However, Mr Ewing stated that the Scottish government did not choose to carry out its Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme in phases.

By contrast, English local authority projects were on a "far smaller scale" than work being carried out north of the border and "required additional phases".

"Rather than taking forward 32 individual local authority-led procurements, we took the joint decision with local government partners, and the UK government, that we would aggregate public investment across two regional projects in Scotland," Mr Ewing said.

"This created a scale that has dwarfed any other project in the UK, extending broadband access to over 800,000 premises across Scotland so far, with further deployment to follow throughout 2018."

Mr Ewing said the success of this approach meant the need to progress a Scottish Phase 2 project in a similar timescale to other parts of the UK was removed.

Indeed, he said the DSSB programme is effectively the first three phases "rolled into one".

"The idea that Scotland is behind the rest of the UK simply because we haven’t yet launched a second procurement is laughable," Mr Ewing continued.

"The DSSB programme was constructed to avoid the need for successive small-scale procurements."

Mr Ewing added that coverage figures demonstrate that this approach has been successful, as the latest Ofcom data shows Scotland has extended superfast broadband access faster than any other UK nation.

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