A £146 million superfast broadband initiative for the Highlands and Islands will better enable 84% of homes and businesses in the region by the end of 2016.
What is not yet clear is the specific areas which will be included in and excluded from the scheme.
Local authority areas included are: Highland Council, Moray Council, Orkney Islands Council, Shetland Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Argyll and Bute Council and part of North Ayrshire Council (Arran and The Cumbraes).
Details for the delivery of the first phase of this partnership initiative will now be finalised and detailed plans for each local authority area will be announced in due course. So we wait to see the detail.
During the life of this project, BT and HIE will also be assessing new and emerging technology options through a £2.5 million Innovation Fund, with a view to extending faster broadband to the most remote places in the Highlands and Islands.
Local SNP MSP, Michael Russell says: ‘This is great news and will be welcomed right across the Highlands and Islands and particularly in Argyll and Bute. This is a large and difficult project but will bring a significant benefit to the region, particularly in terms of allowing our economy to be more competitive. I look forward to seeing the detailed plans for the local authority areas and to work progressing on the ground.’
Highlands & Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, today welcomed the partnership investment project, with the UK and Scottish Governments and HIE together putting in £126.4 million with BT’s investment of £19.4 million.
This will be used to build a fibreoptic spine in the Highlands & Islands, involving engineers in laying around 400km of subsea cables over 19 crossings to remote islands.
Rhoda Grant says: Today’s announcement is most welcome and is a huge step tow
‘ards getting a large proportion of homes and businesses throughout the Highlands & Islands digitally connected. Connectivity is absolutely essential to ensure the Highlands & Islands keeps abreast of the rest of the UK and indeed the rest of the world.
‘It is a huge undertaking for Highlands & Islands Enterprise and BT in an area which presents some of the most geographical challenges in Europe.
‘Estimates indicate that without public sector support, fewer than 25% of premises in the Highlands & Islands would have access to fibreoptic broadband.
‘Highlands & Islands Labour have campaigned relentlessly over a number of years to secure this public investment and I am delighted that our voices have been heard and proper investment made to bring about a broadband infrastructure in the Highlands & Islands which is fit for the 21st century. The network, crucially, will be open to other communications providers which will provide choice and a competitive market for Highlands & Islands customers.
‘Detailed plans of what will be rolled out across each local authority area are still to be announced and I wait to hear the detail of this.
‘I appreciate that some areas will not initially benefit from this project and indeed many of my constituents in remote and island areas have no access to broadband at all at present but I welcome the fact that alternative solutions for these locations are still being investigated and that a £2.5 million Innovation Fund has been established with a view to expanding faster broadband to the most remote areas in the Highlands & Islands.’
SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Dave Thompson, has warmly welcomed the announcement of a project that will bring high speed fibre optic broadband to Shis constituency; and welcoming the commitment by HIE to provide broadband by other means to the areas not covered by the fibreoptic network.
Mr thompson says: ‘This is fantastic news for the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, who have long had to endure a poorer connection than most of the rest of Scotland.
‘By the end of this project, around 84% of Highlands and Islands homes will have access to fibre optic broadband, including areas such as Mallaig, Ardnamurchan, Kyle and Skye. This will mean a significant improvement in the speed available for a great many of my constituents, and the remaining areas will also be covered by other means.
‘This huge project will be one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history. This Scottish Government have already committed to the massive project to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness, and this investment in our digital infrastructure is a huge boost for the people of the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.
‘I am particularly pleased that £2.5 million of the funding will be used by BT and HIE to assess new and emerging technology, to explore ways to extend faster broadband to the most remote places in Scotland. It is essential that we ensure the 16% who will not have access to the new fibre optic are effectively targeted to ensure that they too can enjoy better internet access.’