Shetland Fibre Project Gets European Green Light

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The EU has given a green light for a new fibre optic network connecting residents to superfast broadband

The European Union has granted “state aid clearance” for a new fibre optic network in the Shetland Islands, which will help more of the residents and businesses gain access to high-speed broadband.

The project to connect up the remote Shetland Islands to the Internet was announced back in September this year. This was down, in part, to funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The ERDF aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions. It had allocated £367,500 for the project, as part of a £2.3 million fund awarded to initiatives in the Highlands and Islands.

The Shetland Fibre Optic Network will connect the islands to a recently-laid fibre optic cable between the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

According to the Shetland Times website, the European Union has granted state aid clearance, effectively giving the green light for the project to proceed. This money also means that the various towns and villages in the Shetlands will be connected by fibre.

Wiring Up Communities

The Shetland Times quoted project manager Marvin Smith as being very pleased with the news. Apparently as soon as the snow and winter weather clears up, trial work, ahead of laying a cable, will begin sometime in mid-January.

The idea is that a cable will connect Lerwick, which is the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands, up to a fibre-optic cable “point of presence” at Hoswick (a village in Shetland’s South Mainland). This should be completed before the end of Spring. Later in the year the project hopes to connect to the town of Scalloway.

And the project is using a local firm to conduct the “micro-trenching” needed to connect the towns and villages.

Tulloch Developments will use a machine that will cut a 20mm slot in the road surface to a depth of up to two metres, laying the cable in foam packing and filling the hole again with concrete and tar on top.

BT Frustration

The Shetland Islands Council is said to be investing around £1.1 million in its new Shetland Telecom venture. Apparently, it became frustrated at BT’s refusal to upgrade the network so that businesses and residents in the isles could benefit from faster broadband internet connection speeds.

According to the Shetland Times, when the fibre cable was laid from Faroe to the UK mainland in 2007, BT refused to join Shetland into the fibre optic link even though it crosses the isles from Maywick to Hoswick on its way to Orkney and Banff.

BT is already investing billions in its fibre network and has previously had to defend itself from some local councils and residents over the cost of installing broadband in their region. With the rollout of fibre continuing throughout the UK, this criticism is going to continue from the regions that are not being connected to fibre.

This was evidenced by the outburst from Welsh MP Ian Lucas, who is also the Labour party’s shadow business minster. Earlier this week he criticised the coalition government for not specifically allocating any money to help homes and businesses in Wales get super-fast broadband.

However, to be fair to the government, it has already said that it will allocate money from its own £530 million broadband investment scheme based on specific projects and not nations or regions, which applies to England and Scotland just as much as it does to Wales.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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