BT Signs £146m Scottish Highlands And Islands Broadband Deal

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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BT says deal is the most complex and challenging it has undertaken

BT has agreed a £146 million deal to improve rural broadband coverage in the Scottish Highlands and Islands in what is being described as the UK’s “most complex and challenging” broadband project ever.

The project will be led by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which is contributing £12 million to the £126.4 million of public funding being provided by the Scottish government, including cash from BDUK. BT is contributing an additional £19.4 million.

HIE says that the geography and disparate population of the region present significant technological and cost barriers for the commercial rollout of broadband and without the initiative, fewer than one in four homes and businesses would have access to fibre.

Upon completion in 2016, 84 percent of properties will have fibre broadband with speeds of up to 80Mbps. An additional £2.5 million has been set aside to expand this reach with new and alternative technologies.

Highlands and Islands broadband

Loch Long Scottish Highlands © Richard WebbBT will lay 800km of fibre cables on land with 400km of subsea cables over 19 crossings to remote islands also laid. This is the biggest sub-sea engineering project that BT has undertaken in the UK and the first ever with so many seabed crossings.

“There are incredible obstacles to overcome, not least building a fibre network across some of the most rugged terrain in the UK and we have huge distances to cover as we lay our cables over the hills and glens and under the sea,” said BT. “The unprecedented scale of this project is such that it can only be done in partnership and all of us in BT are looking forward to continuing the great working relationship that we’ve built up over many years with Highlands and Islands Enterprise.”

The Scottish government has welcomed the announcement, with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling it “one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history” and would improve the local economy, create jobs and make the region more competitive.

“High-speed fibre broadband in the Highlands and Islands will make a real contribution to our communities’ prosperity, particularly for people in remote and rural areas,” Alex Paterson, chief executive of HIE. “It offers opportunities for new ways of working, innovation, enhanced public services, access to international markets and provides the infrastructure needed by business sectors like energy, life sciences, tourism and business services.”

Last September BT announced that it was to invest £8 million in a new fibre link between the north of Scotland to Orkney and Shetland, doubling the previous fastest speeds available to 20Mbps.

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