SCOTLAND’S most far-flung communities, including villages on the shores of Loch Ness, are to get superfast broadband.
The move has been welcomed by community leaders who for years have campaigned for better internet connections in the hard-to-reach areas.
Part of the £416 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, the upgrade is the result of co-operation involving Highlands and Islands Enterprise, BT, and the Scottish and UK governments.
The next stage of the rollout aims to reach a further 73,000 more homes and businesses in 24 council areas, from Bressay in Shetland to Dolphinton in the Borders.
Isolated rural communities around Loch Ness and the Highland fishing village of Mallaig are among the latest places that will be receiving high-speed fibre broadband for the first time.
Around 1,300 homes and businesses in the Dochgarroch, Dores, Drumnadrochit, Foyers, Glenmoriston, Glenurquhart, Cannich, and Fort Augustus areas will get access to the faster broadband speeds.
These places are the first around Loch Ness where work will be happening over the next six months.
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson welcomed the news.
She said: “I am pleased to see that this roll-out is going ahead very soon in the Loch Ness and Caithness areas.
“High-speed broadband connectivity is essential for businesses and communities to thrive in a modern world.
“It is a key priority for this administration to ensure that no communities are left behind in the Highlands, even in the hardest to reach areas.”
Brendan Dick, director of Digital Scotland partner BT Scotland, said: “It’s great news that some iconic and very rural Highland locations are next in line to benefit, including a number of Loch Ness communities.
“Maybe even Nessie will go online.
“Across the UK, 23 million premises are now covered by BT’s open access network, with three million of those enabled under the BDUK [Broadband Delivery UK] programme.
“Our Openreach engineers have worked tirelessly to connect some of the most remote parts of Scotland, from Shetland and the Hebrides to Rothesay in Argyll and Bute, and now places like Dores and Drumnadrochit are set to follow.
“On the back of strong take-up of fibre services in partnership areas, BT is releasing additional funds which will enable us to go even further at no extra cost to the taxpayer much earlier than originally expected.”
However, Digital Scotland has advised that not all premises will be able to access fibre-based broadband at the same point due to “current network topography and the economics of deployment”, and warned that “actual results may differ from those expressed or implied” due to unforeseen circumstances.
The announcement has come as the UK government announced the UK-wide rollout of superfast broadband has now encompassed more than three million homes and businesses, nearly 400,000 in Scotland, and is on track to reach 95 per cent of Britain by 2017.
Almost £18 million will be made available in Scotland to further enhance the rollout of fibre broadband.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “By reaching out to those communities who would not have been covered by the commercial market, in towns and into some of our most rural areas we are ensuring that the connections which are made will bring many benefits to the Scottish people both at home and in business.”