Fibre Comes to Highlands

A £146 million investment project to deliver high speed fibre broadband across the Highlands and Islands is being announced today (26 March).

The project, led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and delivered by BT, is being hailed as the UK’s most complex and challenging broadband project ever. It means that around 84 per cent of Highlands and Islands homes and businesses will have access to fibre broadband by the end of 2016.

Announced by Alex Paterson, HIE Chief Executive, at a contract signing with BT in Inverness the project is set to create a fibre network which will transform the area’s digital capabilities for decades to come.

The announcement was welcomed by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said: “Our decision to invest over £126 million in this project demonstrates the confidence that we have in the economic future of the Highlands and Islands.

“Today’s announcement signals the start of one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history. It will connect communities across some of the most challenging landscapes in Europe and provides a platform for future economic development and regeneration.

“Next generation broadband enables businesses to compete on the international stage. It has the potential to transform the way in which we educate our children, provide health and social care and deliver our public services.

“We congratulate Highlands and Islands Enterprise, BDUK and BT on the work that they have done to agree this contract and The Scottish Government will continue to work in partnership with them and local authorities across the region, to deliver real benefits to local people and businesses.”

The geography and disparate population of the Highlands and Islands present significant technological and cost challenges for the commercial rollout of broadband. Estimates have indicated that without public sector support fewer than one in four properties would have fibre broadband via commercial rollout.

Alex Paterson, Chief Executive of HIE, said: “This ambitious project is a game changer for the Highlands and Islands. It will roll out modern, fast and reliable broadband to areas that could not have hoped to have it introduced commercially.

“Digital connectivity is essential to today’s social and business activity. High-speed fibre broadband in the Highlands and Islands will make a real contribution to our communities’ prosperity, particularly for people in remote and rural areas.

Bill Murphy, BT Group’s Managing Director of Next Generation Broadband, said: “This is a once in a generation project which will deliver massive benefits not only to the local economy but also to local people of all ages. High-speed fibre broadband will improve the quality of public services, strengthen the competitiveness of the region’s businesses and protect and develop jobs.

“There are incredible obstacles to overcome, not least building a fibre network across some of the most rugged terrain in the UK. And we have huge distances to cover as we lay our cables over the hills and glens and under the sea. The unprecedented scale of this project is such that it can only be done in partnership and all of us in BT are looking forward to continuing the great working relationship that we’ve built up over many years with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

“BT’s network will be open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis creating a competitive market where people aren’t stuck with one broadband provider and can choose the package and price that suits them.”

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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