Nicola Sturgeon has announced that 25,000 more Highlands and Islands homes and businesses than originally planned will be able to access superfast broadband through the Digital Scotland roll out.
The First Minister was in the region’s highest fibre enabled village, Tomintoul, today to see the benefits of improved connectivity and to announce a second round of extended broadband coverage.
The Tomintoul Discovery Centre, which is owned by the Tomintoul and Glenlivet Development Trust, has recently undergone a £500,000 refurbishment, and is using latest technology to bring local history to life through virtual reality and 360 degree video work.
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project, led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in the region and delivered on the ground by engineers from Openreach, started roll-out in Buckie in Moray in 2014.
Having met the contract’s target to deliver access to superfast to around 124,000 homes and businesses, it is now expected to deliver superfast access to almost 150,000 premises by next year.
The Scottish Government has committed to bringing superfast broadband access to all premises by 2021, and a procurement to deliver the Reaching 100% (R100) project is currently under way.
“This is excellent news for the Highlands,” said Sturgeon, “delivering access to superfast broadband to more than 250 Highlands and Islands communities for the first time.
“The £146 milion project has passed its original targets and is providing opportunities for businesses and communities across the region to transform the way they work. The Tomintoul Discovery Centre is just one of the businesses now benefitting from superfast broadband and is an example of how they’ve used it to enhance their visitors’ experience.
“We will build on this success and our Reaching 100% programme, backed by £600 million, will deliver superfast broadband access to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021 – the only part of the UK to do so.”
When it was launched, the Highlands and Islands plan was acknowledged as one of the most challenging broadband projects in Europe. The geography, the scattered nature of the population and lack of existing or planned fibre meant it was a huge engineering challenge.
The new fibre network stretches across every local authority area in the Highlands and Islands, from North Roe in Shetland to the heights of Tomintoul and to Southend in Kintyre.
The project is funded by the Scottish Government, the UK Government, HIE and private sector partner BT Group.
Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE, said: “We’re delighted to see the project reaching even more homes and businesses. The project has seen more than 1,200km of fibre cable laid to create a core network, including 20 subsea routes to reach our island communities, and there are more than 900 new fibre cabinets delivering services to local homes and businesses.
Brendan Dick, the newly-appointed chairman of Openreach in Scotland, added: “It’s really fitting that we’re in the beautiful surrounds of Tomintoul to mark another high point in the Digital Scotland partnership.
“You only have to look at the Discovery Centre to witness the impact better broadband has on people and places across the region and the massive potential it brings for businesses, tourism and innovation.
“It’s fantastic that even more communities are now in line for a digital boost thanks to prudent partnership planning and careful execution, as well as strong take-up.”
As well as bringing fibre to some new areas, the extended build will also boost speeds for some places which haven’t yet got superfast.
Seven new exchange areas, previously not reached within the budget, are expected to see some coverage. These are: Kilchenzie (Argyll and Bute), Kilninver (Argyll and Bute), Glendale (Highland), Torridon (Highland), Waternish (Highland), Machrie (North Ayrshire), and Great Bernera (Outer Hebrides).
Around 80 existing project areas across the region will see extended coverage and more local infrastructure to improve speeds. Details of locations where roll-out is ongoing as part of the project is available at www.hie.co.uk/fibre