An additional 25,000 homes and businesses in the Scottish Highlands and Islands will be given access to superfast broadband under the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) scheme, part of the wider Broadband Delivery UK project.
Since it launched in 2014, the DSSB rollout has connected 124,000 homes in remote Highlands and Islands locations to internet connections above 24 Mbps, at a cost of £146m.
However, broadband access in rural and isolated areas in Scotland continues to lag behind the rest of Scotland and the whole of the UK. While across Scotland, superfast coverage has reached 93.5%, it remains at just 80% for the Highlands and Islands. Nationally, superfast coverage stands at 95.4%.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the extension of programme during a visit to the Tomintoul Discovery Centre, where a new superfast connection has allowed the recently refurbished museum to offer visitors virtual reality (VR) and 360⁰ video exploration of local history.
“The £146m project has passed its original targets and is providing opportunities for businesses and communities across the region to transform the way they work,” Sturgeon said.
The extended roll-out will bring further coverage to 80 existing project areas across the region and bring fibre connections to seven exchanges for the first time, including those in Glendale, Torridon, and Waternish in the Highlands; Kilchenzie and Kilninver in Argyll and Bute; Machrie in North Ayrshire; and Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides. The new connections are expected to be delivered by the end of 2019.
“This is excellent news for the Highlands – delivering access to superfast broadband to more than 250 Highlands and Islands communities for the first time,” said Sturgeon.
Just under 9% of Scotland’s population lives in the Highlands and Islands but extending superfast broadband coverage to them has consumed a third of the Digital Scotland rollout’s budget.
According to Highlands and Islands Enterprises (HIE), which has delivered the rollout through BT’s Openreach network, the project has already laid 1200 km of fibre cable, including on 20 subsea routes to reach island communities, and equipped 900 street cabinets for fibre connections.
“This infrastructure makes it easier for broadband and mobile operators to deliver and grow services, opening up the many social and economic benefits of good regional connectivity,” said Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE.
The Broadband Delivery UK rollout has been running in parallel with the Scottish Government’s £600m Reaching 100% (R100) project, which aims to bring superfast internet to every premise in Scotland by the end of 2021.
Meanwhile, the UK government has committed to connect every home to full-fibre (FTTP) connections by 2033. The vast majority of connections delivered in the Scottish rollout have been the slower, but cheaper and easier to install, FTTC (fibre to the cabinet). Currently just 1% of Scottish premises can access FTTP, meaning many of these communities recently connected to fibre may see further upgrades in infrastructure and internet speeds in the coming years.