Nicola Sturgeon confirms extension of Highlands superfast broadband roll-out

BT Openreach engineer Stuart MacDonald in North Tolsta, a remote community in the Western Isles which was among the first in Scotland to test increased broadband speeds over long phone lines. Picture: PA
BT Openreach engineer Stuart MacDonald in North Tolsta, a remote community in the Western Isles which was among the first in Scotland to test increased broadband speeds over long phone lines. Picture: PA
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Nicola Sturgeon has announced 25,000 additional homes and businesses in the Highlands and Islands will be able to access superfast broadband through the Digital Scotland roll-out.

The First Minister today visited Tomintoul in Moray, the highest fibre-enabled village in the north of Scotland, to announce a second round of extended broadband coverage.

The community, which is 1,132ft above sea level, was upgraded to fibre in 2016. Ms Sturgeon visited the Tomintoul Discovery Centre which is using the technology to bring local history to life through virtual reality and 360 degree video work.

The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project, led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and delivered on the ground by engineers from Openreach, started roll-out in Buckie in Moray in 2014.

Having met the contract’s target to deliver access to superfast to around 124,000 homes and businesses, it is now expected to deliver superfast access to almost 150,000 premises by next year.

The Scottish Government has committed to bringing superfast broadband access to all premises by 2021, and a procurement to deliver the Reaching 100% (R100) project is currently under way.

The First Minister said: “The £146 milion project has passed its original targets and is providing opportunities for businesses and communities across the region to transform the way they work. The Tomintoul Discovery Centre is just one of the businesses now benefitting from superfast broadband and is an example of how they’ve used it to enhance their visitors’ experience.

“We will build on this success and our Reaching 100% programme, backed by £600 million, will deliver superfast broadband access to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021 – the only part of the UK to do so.”

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Doug Nisbet, TGDT chair said: “The centre is testament to our community and demonstrates what can be achieved when communities work together to a common vision. Our area hosts many innovative businesses at the forefront of their field and TGDT welcomes the announcement that more properties in the Highlands will benefit from superfast broadband. We look forward to the connection of all properties in our area to the fibre network.”

When it was launched, the Highlands and Islands plan was acknowledged as one of the most challenging broadband projects in Europe. The geography, the scattered nature of the population and lack of existing or planned fibre meant it was a huge engineering challenge.

The new fibre network stretches across every local authority area in the Highlands and Islands, from North Roe in Shetland to the heights of Tomintoul and to Southend in Kintyre.

The project is funded by the Scottish Government, the UK Government, HIE and private sector partner BT Group.

Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive of HIE, said: “The project has seen more than 1,200km of fibre cable laid to create a core network, including 20 subsea routes to reach our island communities, and there are more than 900 new fibre cabinets delivering services to local homes and businesses.

“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.”

Brendan Dick, the newly-appointed chairman of Openreach in Scotland, added: “It’s really fitting that we’re in the beautiful surrounds of Tomintoul to mark another high point in the Digital Scotland partnership.

“You only have to look at the Discovery Centre to witness the impact better broadband has on people and places across the region and the massive potential it brings for businesses, tourism and innovation.

“It’s fantastic that even more communities are now in line for a digital boost thanks to prudent partnership planning and careful execution, as well as strong take-up.”

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