ENGINEERS have begun work on the country’s longest publicly funded subsea fibre connection, aimed at bringing superfast broadband to the Outer Hebrides.
The 750-mile land and underwater fibre network, described as the UK’s most challenging rural broadband project, is seen as crucial to the economic viability and sustainability of the islands.
By the end of 2016, more than 200,000 homes and businesses may benefit as a result of the project and BT’s commercial roll-out.
The overall project, costing a total of £410 million, aims to provide faster digital connections to 95 per cent of premises in Scotland by 2017.
Divers are bringing cable ashore in Stornoway to form the start of what is the country’s longest subsea link.
A specialist ship using a submersible plough and remotely operated vehicles is burying the double-armoured cable in the seabed. The cable will run under the Minch to Ullapool.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has invested in the project, along with the Scottish Government, Broadband Delivery UK and private-sector partner BT. Local community representatives joined project partners as the cable was brought ashore yesterday from specialist ship the Rene Descartes, operated by Orange Marine, which will now make the journey to the mainland, laying the cable along the seabed.
Councillor Alasdair Macleod, chairman of sustainable development at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), said: “High-speed digital connectivity will bring many benefits to island residents and businesses, and enhance the economic viability and sustainability of our area. Businesses in the area are at a severe disadvantage if they do not have access to modern technology.”
“High-speed digital connectivity is essential in the modern era to ensure that our communities are well placed to take advantage of opportunities created by this new, exciting development.”
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It’s fantastic news that this network is being developed to bring the benefits of high-quality digital connectivity to our island communities, many for the first time.
“This is an important step towards ensuring that Scotland has world-class digital connectivity by 2020.”
Stuart Robertson, HIE’s director of digital for Highlands and Islands, said the latest step was vital in changing the face of broadband services.
He added: “Without public sector support, fibre-based broadband would have reached around 21 per cent of premises in the Highlands and Islands, centred mostly in higher population areas.
“Our project aims to boost coverage dramatically and is reaching out to areas like the Outer Hebrides where there were no commercial plans.
“It is a hugely challenging and ambitious project, and we will continue to work to bring the social and economic benefits of faster, reliable broadband to as many people as possible.”
Brendan Dick, director at BT Scotland, described the beginning of engineering work as an “historic day for the people of the Western Isles”.