Openreach Makes Final Connections in Highlands and Islands

Openreach has delivered 6,500 kilometers of fiber optic cable in order to bring superfast broadband to more than 290 Highlands and Islands communities and is now making the final connections. Openreach in a press release stated that the £146m fiber broadband roll-out is making its final stage before handing over to the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% (R100) program.

More than 193,000 homes and businesses have been reached by the publicly funded Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project, led in the region by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and delivered on the ground by digital network business, Openreach.

The project, funded by the Scottish Government, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), HIE, and BT, has created a core fiber network across the region from Shetland to Kintyre.

Scotland’s Connectivity Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “Along with this great work in the Highlands and Islands, the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband program has reached over 950,000 homes and businesses across Scotland and my thanks go to all the delivery partners for ensuring its success.

“DSSB has laid the foundations for a robust, future-proof, critical national infrastructure. It is providing lasting digital, economic, and social benefits for people living and working in the Highlands and Islands and beyond – something that’s been all the more important during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I look forward to the successor program, ‘Reaching 100%’, starting to roll out in northern Scotland in 2021.”

One of the communities, connected in April this year, is South Whiteness in Shetland. The download speed of available broadband leaped from 1 Mbps to ultrafast Fiber to the Premises (FTTP). Around 75% of homes on the Shetland West service ordered it, currently the highest full fiber take-up in the region.

Local councilor Catherine Hughson lives on the three-mile South Whiteness peninsula. She said: “The difference is like night and day. I’d say this is the most significant infrastructure investment for our community since the peninsula had water upgraded. We’ve been so glad to have it, especially given the current circumstances. Good broadband is vital in keeping people connected and has allowed our community to keep working and studying from home. It’s vital we continue to do all we can to find solutions for all rural homes and businesses.”

Stuart Robertson, head of the digital at HIE, said: “So much has changed since our first connections in Buckie in 2014. We’ve connected many island communities to mainstream fiber for the first time, and seen speeds increase more than a hundredfold for some of our areas with the poorest historic broadband speeds.

“The benefits of better broadband have never been more striking. With superfast speeds available to more than 8 in 10 of our homes and businesses it’s helped many people to keep working and stay connected to loved ones. Our project has laid strong foundations, and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government and the R100 team to ensure vital investment in infrastructure is prioritized for the poorest served rural areas.”

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s partnership director for Scotland, said: “Everyone at Openreach is thrilled to see the transformative effect of better broadband across the Highlands and Islands. It’s been a long and challenging build, with more than 6,500km of fiber laid and the stunning Highland geography – and wildlife – regularly testing our engineers.

“It’s great to see places like South Whiteness jumping straight to ultrafast full fiber broadband ahead of many more urban parts of the country. Good connectivity has never been more important – and the huge expansion of the fiber network across the region leaves a strong legacy to build on. We look forward to the next stage of the journey.”

Providing access to superfast broadband connections continues in the Highlands and Islands with the rollout of the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100% Program in 2021. The Scottish Government will invest £384m in the area.

The Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme also plays a major part in R100, with eligible addresses able to access up to £5000 funding towards building a superfast connection.

Overview of regional connectivity by Openreach:

-Access to fiber-based broadband at any speed has increased from 4% to 93% since 2014

-Around 245,000 homes and businesses in the region can access the network. (These figures include commercial and project coverage.)

-Access to superfast fiber broadband in the region (at 30Mbps or above) is 81%.

-Access to superfast fiber broadband in the region at 24 Mbps or above is 83%.

-Those with access lower than 10 Mbps is around 12%.

-The DSSB contract reached 37,000 more premises than originally planned, partly as a result of efficient delivery and also from reinvestment of £6.4m of clawback as a result of good take-up.

-Take up of fiber services in the region is 70%.

-The project’s most northerly connection is in North Roe, Shetland, the most southerly is in Southend in Kintyre. Our highest fiber broadband cabinet is in Tomintoul.

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