MORE than 600,000 Scottish homes will benefit from a £264 million high-speed broadband investment aimed at improving speeds in rural areas, which has been hailed as one of the most ambitious in Europe.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the programme, which aims to ensure 85 per cent of properties have access to fibre broadband by the end of 2015.
The total should rise to 95 per cent by the end of 2017, she said.
Early priority will be given to rural small and medium-sized businesses to encourage economic growth in “hard-to-reach” areas. It builds on previous commitments across the Highlands and Islands.
“Today’s announcement signals the start of one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in the whole of Europe,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“It will connect communities across rural and urban areas, providing a platform for future economic development and regeneration.
“Next-generation broadband enables businesses to compete on the international stage. It has the potential to transform the way in which we educate our children, provide health and social care and deliver our public services. “
The project will be delivered by BT, which is investing £106.7m, and is being led by the Scottish Government and councils, plus the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Ms Sturgeon announced the plan at a BT exchange building in Pitt Street, Glasgow, where the contract was signed.
Bill Murphy, BT managing director of Next Generation Access, said: “We believe that access to a reliable, high-speed broadband service can shape lives for the better and so this is an important moment in the evolution of Scotland’s communications story.
“We’ll create a platform to support Scotland’s economic and social prosperity well into the future. It will stimulate growth in its thriving small business and social enterprise culture, helping the country compete in an increasingly digital world.
“Bringing fibre broadband to another 600,000-plus Scottish homes and businesses is a huge civil engineering challenge. We’re looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and starting work straight away to deliver an outstanding, transformational project.”
David O’Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local
Authorities, added: “Communities, especially in rural areas, have been uniformly clear that better accessibility to higher-speed broadband services was a top priority and for that reason all 32 Scottish councils agreed to pool over £90m to deliver this project alongside European Union funding of over £20m.”