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Digital roll-out transforms communities

Published: 5 Oct 2015 10:00

People and businesses benefiting across Highlands and Islands

More than 75 per cent of premises across Moray now have access to high-speed fibre broadband thanks to the Scottish Government-backed £410million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme, which has now reached over 419,000 homes and businesses from the Shetland Isles to Dumfries and Galloway.

The Highlands and Islands programme is targeting 156,238 premises across the region.

Buckie in Moray was the first location to go live as part of the HIE led DSSB programme. This exchange area now has more than 80% coverage from 18 cabinets across the town. Take up currently stands at almost 1 in 4 premises in Buckie

Mobile coverage featured prominently within the discussion at today's meeting of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands (CoHI). CoHI members and representatives from the UK's mobile operators and BT came together to discuss how the public sector and industry can work together to push the reach of digital connectivity even further.

Local firm Diageo is an example of how businesses are benefiting from improved digital infrastructure. Working with HIE, the business is exploring how the growing range of options can help it digitally link its distilleries across Scotland.

Speaking at CoHI, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

"I am pleased to be here in Elgin for CoHi to have an opportunity to discuss digital connectivity. Elgin, and indeed Moray, are already benefiting from digital infrastructure improvements. More widely, amongst the places getting high speed fibre for the first time, thanks to the DSSB programme are some of the small communities and towns around Loch Ness and the picturesque fishing village of Mallaig.

"The Scottish Government is committed to delivering first-rate connectivity in Scotland by 2020, ensuring we are a world class digital nation. Across the Highlands and Islands, over 90,000 premises now have access to fibre broadband as a result of our investment.

"For the homes and businesses we can't reach with fibre, we are working to ensure there is a high quality, high speed and sustainable solution through our Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) initiative.

"Earlier this year, CBS provided almost £1 million to a group of island communities in Argyll for a project – Gigaplus Argyll – and more than 1,400 homes and businesses are set to enjoy high speed broadband. I'm very pleased to say that a similar project will be rolled out on Skye, with other projects in the pipeline.

"In March this year, we switched on 3G and 4G mobile services for the Isle of Coll, working in partnership with Vodafone and the islanders themselves whose mast is a community-asset. We are now assessing how this model can be replicated elsewhere, potentially using European funding. We're also designing a round of projects to trial a range of different technologies and business models to determine which might be appropriate to improve coverage in areas like the islands.

"Mobile connectivity is an integral part of our world class digital vision and we recognise the importance of mobile coverage for Scotland economically, socially and in terms of resilience. We are committed to working in collaboration with industry to improve mobile coverage in Scotland and I recently met with mobile operators with view to developing a joint plan to achieve this.

"Our approach is transforming the future of connectivity for Scotland's rural communities and businesses, many of which would never have seen these kinds of connections through the commercial market.

"These are just some examples of how the Scottish Government and our partners are making significant strides towards creating an infrastructure capable of supporting world class connectivity across Scotland by 2020."

Mr Swinney also welcomed today's launch of a high profile campaign raising awareness of the very many digital and IT career opportunities available.

"Digital jobs, and the skilled women and men who can fill them, will be essential to the continued growth and competitiveness of Scotland's economy.

"I am delighted that a multi-channel campaign, developed by Skills Development Scotland and our other digital skills partners and called Digital World – Shape It, launches today.

"The campaign aims to promote the range and quality of careers in the digital sector. It will play a valuable role as part of our wider efforts to ensure that Scotland has the digitally skilled and aware workforce that we will need."

Notes to editors

PLEASE NOTE: INTERVIEW SLOT FROM 10:15AM - 10:35 AM AT THE ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL CENTRE, ELGIN

In the Highlands and Islands, DSSB is being led by HIE. The partnership project is investing £146m of public and private sector funds across the HIE region, aiming to take fibre to as many homes and businesses as possibl

Combined with existing roll-out plans for the Highlands and Islands, DSSB will extend the coverage of fibre broadband to at least 84% of premises by the end of 2016.

Although coverage for the OIOF authorities is lower than the HIE average, it is important to note that no commercial roll-out was planned for Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles. Equally islands such as Arran and Bute were not within commercial roll-out plans.

Through DSSB, subsea cabling was laid to interconnect the main islands with the mainland. One of the major outcomes of this cabling through DSSB is that all three islands have substantially improved 'backhaul' for the first time. It provides the capacity to deliver the high speed services and to grow local networks.

The H & I project is currently on target. BT are on track to pass their Q3 2015 target of 93,946 premises by end September.