New Highlands and Islands broadband project confirmed

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A £146 million project to deliver high-speed fibre broadband across the Highlands and Islands is being announced on Tuesday.

The project, led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and delivered by BT, has been described as the UK’s most complex and challenging broadband project ever.

It means that around 84 per cent of Highlands and Islands homes and businesses will have access to fibre broadband by the end of the project.

Alex Paterson, chief executive of HIE, said: “This ambitious project is a game changer for the Highlands and Islands. It will roll out modern, fast and reliable broadband to areas that could not have hoped to have it introduced commercially.

“Digital connectivity is essential to today’s social and business activity. High-speed fibre broadband in the Highlands and Islands will make a real contribution to our communities’ prosperity, particularly for people in remote and rural areas.”

The project will see public sector investment of £126.4 million through the Scottish Government’s broadband fund, incorporating funding from Broadband Delivery UK, the body responsible for increasing access to broadband on behalf of the UK Coalition Government.

That figure also includes up to £12m from HIE’s own budget, while BT is investing an additional £19.4m on top of its investment in its wider commercial roll-out for the region, taking the total project value to around £146 million.

BT will build a fibre backbone with more than eight hundred kilometres of new fibre on land, and install hundreds more kilometres of fibre access cable to hundreds of new street cabinets.

Engineers will also lay around 400km of subsea cables over 19 crossings to remote islands - the biggest sub-sea engineering project BT has undertaken in the UK and is the first ever with so many seabed crossings.

Bill Murphy, BT Group’s Managing Director of Next Generation Broadband, said: “There are incredible obstacles to overcome, not least building a fibre network across some of the most rugged terrain in the UK. And we have huge distances to cover as we lay our cables over the hills and glens and under the sea.

“The unprecedented scale of this project is such that it can only be done in partnership and all of us in BT are looking forward to continuing the great working relationship that we’ve built up over many years with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

“BT’s network will be open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis creating a competitive market where people aren’t stuck with one broadband provider and can choose the package and price that suits them.”

Detailed plans for each local authority area will be announced in due course.