Fast Internet Funding For Scottish Highlands

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The Scottish government has put together £120m to fibre up the Highlands and Islands

The Scottish government has announced a £120m investment program that will wire up communities across the Highlands and Islands to superfast broadband.

The announcement was made on Monday by Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment. He said the funding will ensure homes and businesses located in some of  Scotland’s most rural locations could get the benefits of next generation broadband for the very first time.

Rural Internet

The investment, coupled with a tranche of public funding, will be used by BT to replace its copper-based lines with high speed fibre in the Highlands and Islands region, which already enjoys  basic broadband provision to around 99 percent of premises.

“Scotland’s ambition to deliver world-class digital connectivity by 2020 has received a boost today, with the announcement of £120 million for the Highlands and Islands,” said Mr Neil.

“Everybody in the Highlands and Islands recognises the importance of access to superfast broadband, not just for the future of our local economies but indeed for the future of our children, for our education, our health and every aspect of life in the modern world,” he said.

btfibrecabinet - Azzin on AVForums“Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which is currently in discussion with BT, has been a driving force in developing a project to find solutions to the challenges of bringing next generation access to businesses and communities in the region, Neil added. “I am pleased to see a continuing commitment to work with local authorities across the region to make sure that by working in partnership, we are truly able to meet the ambitions of local people and businesses.”

Neil has been a vigorous campaigner for superfast broadband in Scotland.

Scottish Complaints

Earlier this month, he revealed that Scottish complaints about its slice of the government’s BDUK broadband funding pie had resulted in more money (£32m) heading north of the border to pay for fibre optic broadband.

This came after the government assigned a total of £362 million to English and Scottish councils last August out of the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) fund for a fibre rollout into non-commercially viable areas.

Scotland was initially assigned £68.8 million at the time, a decision criticised by the Scottish government. It complained that the funds were simply not sufficient, and it felt the allocation was unfair because Wales, in comparison, had received £58 million to fund its broadband rollout, although it has a much smaller population and landmass.

In March 2012, these complaints were reiterated when Alex Neil, a member of the SNP who is also Scotland’s infrastructure secretary, met with Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt to discuss Scotland’s allocation of money for superfast broadband.

Neil reportedly told Hunt that he believed that Scotland had been “short-changed” when the £530 million broadband investment pot was allocated. Scotland has now gained a total of £100.8 million from BDUK to fund its fibre.

Digital Future

But this money is needed, as the Scottish government has ambitious plans for a superfast broadband deployment north of the border, with its ‘Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan’.

In a nutshell, it aims to provide Scotland with 85 to 90 percent coverage of next-generation services (FTTC-based 40 to 80 Mbps) by 2015, with the whole country enjoying “world-class digital access” by 2020.

The plan is highly ambitious to say the least, but Scotland believes that its £100.8m BDUK allocation, coupled with £79.5 million from Scotland’s national budget (including £25.5 million from EU funding), will be sufficient for the task.

A further £40 million has “already been earmarked by local authorities” for the deployment – bringing the grand total to approximately £220 million. Scotland also hopes to dip into some of the £150 million government fund to eliminate so-called mobile phone notspots in those tough to reach Scottish locations.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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