They may not be British for much longer, but the far-flung Outer Hebrides will soon have superfast broadband for the first time.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is supervising the creation of a 1,200km land and subsea network to provide 200,000 homes and businesses with high-speed broadband by the end of 2016.
The project is part of a £146m public investment in partnership with Scottish Government, Broadband Delivery UK and private sector partner BT, and will benefit both businesses and consumers on the islands, allowing them to utilise download speeds matching those available on the mainland.
Stuart Robertson, HIE’s director of digital for Highlands and Islands, said: “This step is a vital part in the rollout of a network which will change the face of broadband services in the Highlands and Islands.
“Without public sector support, fibre based broadband would have reached around 21 per cent of premises in the Highlands and Islands, centred mostly in higher population areas.
“Our project aims to boost coverage dramatically and is reaching out to areas like the Outer Hebrides where there were no commercial plans. It is a hugely challenging and ambitious project and we will continue to work to bring the social and economic benefits of faster, reliable broadband to as many people as possible.”
This initial stage of the project will involve the cable ship René Descartes laying a 79km cable along the seabed between Stornoway and Ullapool.
The next stage of the project will include provisioning cabinets around the islands to link the fibre optic cables to the existing copper network to homes and businesses in a phased approach, between 2015 and 2016.
Last week, a similar project commenced in the Scilly Isles, connecting the islands to the mainland and providing 2,200 homes and businesses with fibre-based broadband.