Rural Broadband Roll-Out in Highlands and Islands Reaching Further
15th June 2017
More than 160,000 homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands are now part of the high speed fibre broadband network, thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) roll-out.
Residents in more than 230 Highlands and Islands towns and villages can access the benefits of high speed services following the £146m investment in a next generation broadband network for the region.
When added to commercial roll-out, the total number of homes with access to fibre in the region is 205,000 - around 84% of all premises.
The roll-out contract, being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and delivered on the ground by Openreach, the UK's leading digital infrastructure provider, has passed its original coverage target. Further roll-out is continuing as a result of efficient delivery and additional funds from good levels of take up. Coverage is expected to reach 86% of premises by the end of the 2017/18 financial year.
Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, said: "The Highlands and Islands project is one of the most challenging broadband infrastructure roll-outs in Europe.
"When it started only 4% of the region's premises could access next generation broadband. Every day roll-out reaches increasingly remote communities and smaller and smaller groups of homes, including locations like the island of Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides, and villages like Lonmore and Roskhill in Skye."
"The Scottish Government is committed to delivering 100% superfast broadband access across Scotland by 2021 and plans are currently being developed to ensure that this is the case. During the summer months our existing programme will continue to advance across the country, bringing high speed broadband to new rural communities."
Stuart Robertson, director of digital at HIE, said: "The Highlands and Islands project's target was to reach just over 155,000 premises. We're delighted that the project has passed this target and we are going further. The investment has been vitally important in creating a network across the region which can support better broadband and mobile services and which can be built on into the future."
The current phase of roll-out has been designed on a value for money basis to reach as many people as possible within the available budget. The project has extended coverage in areas including Inverness, Elgin, Fort William and Oban. It's also created a brand new broadband infrastructure for many island communities and has reached smaller communities including Crinan, Tongue and Tomintoul.
The current Highlands and Islands project is funded by the Scottish Government, UK Government through Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), HIE itself and BT.
The majority of the latest connections to be upgraded were previously on ‘Exchange Only' (EO) lines, a historic legacy of the copper network which presents greater engineering challenges. The lines run directly from the exchange to homes and business premises, bypassing the usual road-side cabinets which are a vital part of the fibre rollout.
Robert Thorburn, BT Scotland’s Fibre Broadband Director, said: "The Digital Scotland fibre rollout has continued to make good progress over the last six months. Thanks to engineering innovation, thousands of people on lines once thought to be incapable of carrying a superfast service are now able to upgrade to higher speeds.
"And with strong take-up rates set to drive the reinvestment of millions of pounds back into the network, we look forward to continuing work on this huge and challenging infrastructure project to benefit the people of Scotland."
Where available, local people need to sign up for the new, faster services with an internet service provider, as upgrades are not automatic. Customers can check availability on an online checker at www.hie.co.uk/fibre
Fibre broadband offers fast and reliable broadband connections at speeds of up to 80Mbps* and there are many suppliers in the marketplace to choose from.
*These are the top wholesale speeds available from Openreach to all service providers; speeds offered by service providers may vary.
Photo HIE/Tim Winterburn