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The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project has arrived on the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides, with the first fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband services being enabled in the town of Stornoway.
BT has switched on the first of 11 cabinets to be deployed in the town of around 9,000 people, with 3,600 homes and business getting access to the service.
The Stornoway roll-out is the first step in the £146m project, which aims to see at least 70% of premises on the Outer Hebrides, which stretch for about 130 miles north to south, and are home to around 28,000, connected to superfast broadband services by the end of 2016.
It is being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and BT, with additional funding from Westminster and Holyrood.
“This investment is designed to reach Scotland’s remoter communities, none of which would have seen these kinds of connections through the commercial market,” said the deputy first minister of Scotland John Swinney.
“This is a momentous day and a huge first step in transforming the future of connectivity for communities and businesses across the Outer Hebrides,” he added.
Most complex roll-out yet
The deployment of fibre broadband to the Outer Hebrides, which lie an average of around 40 miles from the mainland, has been hailed as one of the most complex yet undertaken by BDUK.
“This has been the most complex sub-sea project BT has tackled in UK waters and the first time we’ve laid 20 seabed cables in a single operation. The whole team has knuckled down to face massive engineering challenges on sea and on land and I’m proud of the effort they’ve put in,” said BT chief executive Gavin Patterson.
HIE chief executive Alex Paterson said: “The scale of the challenge to bring modern, fast and reliable broadband to our remotest areas is huge. On the Outer Hebrides, the project has seen five sub-sea cables for inter-island and mainland links installed in 2014, and fibre cabling now runs the length of the islands.
“We are ambitious the huge step up in capacity it brings will help us find solutions for more and more people in even the hardest to reach areas.”
HIE said the core network links back to mainland Scotland would open up “game-changing” capacity for access to previously unavailable services for local businesses, as well as enhanced connectivity for consumers.
Services are available to order in Stornoway, although some additional engineering and network configuration work will take place later in 2015 to allow a number of premises which are connected directly to the telephone exchange, as opposed to through a cabinet, to connect.
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In the short term, those customers currently connected to “exchange only” lines should see an increase in speeds in the coming weeks as a result of the improved capacity to the island, said BT.
Donald Campbell, chief executive of Scottish language media service MG Alba, said the investment was hugely welcome for local companies.
MG Alba shares offices with the BBC’s Radio nan Gaidheal, STV, two independent TV production companies and a number of other creative industries businesses in Stornoway.
“This new capacity is vital as we and the rest of the industry move to file-based high-definition digital workflows. For other creative partners in Stornoway and throughout the Western Isles, who will benefit from the new high-speed fibre broadband, this represents an opportunity to grow their businesses and collaborate in digital projects in ways not possible before,” said Campbell.