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Highlands & Islands superfast scheme in dry dock as cable gear sinks

The Highands and Islands superfast broadband could be delayed following the loss of vital equipment on a cable ship. 

The eight-tonne plough got stuck on the seabed in hte Harris Sound as it was being used to dig a trench between the Hebridean islands of North Uist and Harris. 

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) scheme aims to provide superfast broadband access to 84 per cent of homes and businesses by 2016. The project involves BT engineers having to traverse some of the most challenging terrain in the UK.  

A cable gear in the Highlands and Islands fibre broadband scheme got stuck somewhere between these two islands
Can you spot it? The eight tonne plough is thought to lie somewhere between these two islands

A HIE spokesperson said: “We are waiting for a formal plan from Orange Marine as to what is going to be done to recover the plough which is marked with a buoy.

“The master of the René Descartes has given location details to Marine Scotland, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Northern Lighthouse Board and Stornoway Coastguard.”

Orange Marine is a subsidiary of Orange and operates a fleet of cable ships. The René Descartes is the only Orange Marine ship that’s dedicated to installing cable on a worldwide scale. 

It’s being used to lay 79km of cable along the seabed as part of the first phase of the Outer Hebrides plan before street cabinets can be set up on the islands.  

A similar albeit much smaller operation in Cornwall has seen BT able to connect the Scilly Isles to superfast broadband. 

The scheme started at the end of last year with £260 million invested by BT and many of the public bodies in the areas. Ardersier, Buckie, Milton of Leys, Fortrose, Hopeman, Inverness Culloden, Lhanbryde and Lossiemouth were the first areas to see superfast broadband installed.

There’s still a long way to go before the islands are connected, with the Carnan to Dunvegan stretch on the Isle of Skye yet to be finished.

The project will involve laying 800km of fibre on land and 400km under the sea across 19 crossings. Most businesses and residents will benefit from FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) connections providing speeds up to 80Mbps. 

If the cable gear can’t be rescued from the bottom of the sea, the HIE says it will order a new one from Norway, which will delay the process further. 

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