Shetlands Get Funding For Fibre Optic Network

The Shetlands has become the latest British Internet not-spot to receive funding for a new fibre optic network, which will help more of the islands’ residents get access to high-speed broadband.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – which aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions – has allocated £367,500 for the project. This is part of a £2.3 million fund awarded to initiatives in the Highlands and Islands.

“This is particularly good news for residents and businesses in Shetland, where the fibre optic cable will greatly enhance broadband connections,” said finance secretary John Swinney. “This award builds on the Scottish government’s efforts to improve broadband services across Scotland and to realise its undoubted social and economic benefits.”

Widespread benefits

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. The Shetland Business Growth Training Scheme has also landed £85,500 from the European Social Fund to support skills development training for SME staff.

Other ERDF grants have been awarded to projects elsewhere in Argyll and Bute and the Highlands – from pier improvements and the installation of energy efficiency measures, to college initiatives providing extra training places for young people.

John Swinney

“In order to maintain the fragile economic recovery that is underway we have ensured that European Structural Fund allocations are directed towards projects that can help build sustainable economic growth,” said Swinney (left). “These are all worthy initiatives that can make a vital contribution to economic growth across the region.”

Fibre rollout

The rollout of Fibre to the Home (FTTH) broadband connections in remote areas of the UK has been progressing well this year, particularly in rural communities in Wales. In June, BT announced a deal with the Welsh Assembly to provide super-fast broadband to the villages of Beulah and Ystrad Meurig in Ceredigion and Cil-y-Cwm and Llanfynydd in Carmarthenshire.

Service provider Fibrecity also announced plans earlier this month to provide faster broadband in Dundee by threading fibre through Scottish Water’s sewage infrastructure. However, a similar scheme in Bournemouth was recently cancelled due to contractual problems between the two parties involved.

Meanwhile Virgin Media has been trialling broadband delivery over telegraph poles, in the Welsh village of Crumlin, Caerphilly, and in the Berkshire village of Woolhampton. According to Virgin, aerial deployment may provide “an exciting new way to extend next-generation broadband services”.

Despite these ongoing efforts within the industry to wire up the nation, however, the government’s “digital champion” Martha Lane Fox has been given no budget to get the last remaining ten million Brits online.

“There is no money and we don’t need it to make a big stride forward,” said Lane Fox back in August. “There is a massive amount you can do. You can make big inroads into that 10 million number without having to spend money.”

New EC rules

Last week the European Commission (EC) outlined rules to govern the widespread deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure. While this represents a positive development in providing clearer guidelines for Ofcom, business communications specialist Viatel argues that the EC proposals may force a government policy change.

“The decision to postpone the Universal Service Obligation of 2Mbps for all to 2015 would mean, depending on the definition of ‘basic broadband’, missing the requirement to provide basic broadband for all by 2013,” said Steve Powell, product manager for connectivity at Viatel.

Powell also warns that BT, which shares its broadband infrastructure with rival Internet Service Providers (ISPs), will have to rethink its fibre rollout.

“The minimum requirement of 30Mbps for all citizens by 2020 and the fact that 50 percent of all premises must have 100 Mbps in the same time frame are both incompatible with BT’s current plans,” said Powell. “The company’s NGA roll out has been pretty ambitious so far and could be made to comply with new obligations if amendments are made. For example, changing the ratio of FTTP to FTTC, plus increasing and bringing forward the amount of planned FTTP could have a dramatic effect.”

Sophie Curtis

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