Infrastructure provider Openreach (BT) has promised a “feat of civil engineering” to bring ultrafast broadband to remote areas of Scotland which have struggled with slow speeds or no internet at all.
Over the next five years, the firm will upgrade 160 exchanges across Scotland and run its fibre optic cables to new communities. 60,000 homes and businesses across the Highlands and Islands will see their broadband improve, including in the communities of Brodick on Arran, Portree on Skye (pictured), Stornoway, Kirkwall and Lerwick.
Also to see a broadband boost are 30,000 premises in Aberdeenshire, 20,000 in Angus, 30,000 in Dumfries and Galloway, and 25,000 across Ayrshire.
In total, 300,000 premises will receive better broadband, including many areas where speeds are inadequate for today’s internet.
Most of these premises fall within the “final third,” defined by Ofcom as the 9.5 million premises in the least commercially viable areas for competitive broadband.
The UK government has earmarked £5 billion to connect the hardest-to-reach 20% of premises with gigabit-capable connections, but Openreach says it will reach some of these areas without needing subsidies.
Robert Thorburn, Openreach Scotland’s strategic infrastructure director, said: “Building a new broadband network across Scotland is a massive challenge and some parts of the country will inevitably require further public funding.
“But our expanded build plan means any future taxpayer subsidies can be limited to only the hardest to connect homes and businesses. And with investments from other builders, we’d hope to see that shrink further.”
The plan for Scotland follows the BT Group’s announcement that it will increase Openreach’s full-fibre target from 20 million premises to 25 million, to be connected by December 2026. Six million of those premises will be in hard-to-reach areas.
Kate Forbes, Scottish finance secretary, welcomed Openreach’s plans. “This is good news for Scotland. The rollout of ultrafast broadband to so many more rural communities is vitally important, especially as we focus on recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
“This focus on rural and hard-to-reach areas is exactly what I want to see and I look forward to hearing that these 300,000 addresses are connected.”
Ofcom has estimated that 190,000 homes and businesses, largely in rural areas, are unable to access “decent” broadband, with speeds of at least 10Mbps. This includes 34,000 properties in Scotland.
The Scottish government wants to give every home and business in the country access to superfast broadband, with download speeds of 30Mbps or greater, despite having "some of the most challenging topography in Europe for providing telecoms infrastructure.”
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