A VETERAN Sutherland councillor has accused BT Openreach of stymieing technological and business advancement in the county because of the "poor level" of service it provides.
Linda Munro claims the area enjoyed a better service from the telecoms provider 30 years ago than it does today.
Cllr Munro, who represents North, West and Central Sutherland, spoke out after senior BT Openreach managers failed for a second time to appear at a meeting of Sutherland County Committee to discuss growing concerns.
Councillors are now writing to BT Scotland chief Brendan Dick to express their "severe disappointment" at what is being seen as a snub to Sutherland.
Cllr Munro, the newly-elected chairman of the committee, said: "The communities across Sutherland all speak highly of the engineers on the ground, but this is about the management of the workload and investment in our infrastructure. In short, it’s about delivering a fit-for-purpose service.
"Thirty years ago if your phone went off, it got fixed."
However, BT has said the reasons for the non-attendance were valid and it is working closely with Sutherland communities to provide superfast broadband.
Frustration over months of delays by BT Openreach in repairing lost phone and broadband connections and also in establishing new connections has been slowly building up across the county. There is also anger over low broadband speeds.
Cllr Munro said this week that disgruntled Sutherland residents were in constant contact with her and fellow councillors regarding telecoms issues.
She said: "There is a lot of upset in different pockets of the area and we all know of examples within our two wards. Every one of us have communities where the stories are just horrific."
Cllr Munro added it was particularly concerning when vulnerable, older people in remote and rural areas were affected and ambitious plans to progress the delivery of tele-medicine and tele-care in the area could not go ahead without reliable phone and broadband connections.
Tele-medicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology – is viewed as a solution to provide care in remote areas where GP recruitment and retention is a problem.
Cllr Munro also claimed the telecoms problems were deterring businesses from setting up in or relocating to the north.
She continued: "The development of tele-medicine and tele-care is dependent on sustainable communications but at the moment that is just castles in the sand."
In a bid to talk over the issues with BT Scotland, Sutherland County Committee issued an invitation to attend its February meeting, but representatives were unable to.
A second invitation was issued to attend the June 23 meeting, but no-one turned up. An apology was received as the meeting was under way.
Cllr Munro said: "For the second time running BT has not taken up the opportunity to send a representative to Sutherland County Committee so elected members can hold face-to-face discussions and raise issues and concerns on behalf of their constituents.
"We are troubled that for the second time in a row BT has not deemed the ongoing concerns of our constituents or status of our committee worthy of attending.
"All Sutherland members are united on this issue and we will be sending a letter to BT expressing our severe disappointment on how the folk of Sutherland are being treated and requesting that its chief executive take the concerns of our communities seriously and comes along to our next meeting."
A BT Scotland spokesman said the decision by the county committee to send out a news release castigating BT for not attending the two meetings was "surprising and unfortunate" as on both occasions the committee was provided with reasons and apologies.
He said: "On the first occasion Openreach’s senior operations manager for the area could not accept the offer to meet on the date and made the committee aware of this.
"And on the second occasion our representative did not attend because a personal emergency arose at the last minute. Again the committee was informed of this and an offer was made to set up a separate meeting at which all issues of concern could be discussed.
"Unfortunately there has been no response to this offer but it remains on the table and we will be happy to take part in a future meeting."