Ensuring high quality digital connectivity across all of Scotland is a priority for the Scottish Government. We have set out an ambition that, in future, people living, working and visiting Scotland will be able to communicate and connect instantly using any device, anywhere, at any time.
As a key first step, the Scottish Government and its partners are investing over £410 million in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme ( DSSB), to extend fibre broadband infrastructure into non-commercial areas.
The programme comprises two projects - one covering the Highlands and Islands led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise ( HIE); the other covering the rest of Scotland, led by Scottish Government. Both contracts were awarded to BT during 2013 and delivery is well underway.
Our initial coverage target was to have 85% of premises in Scotland able to access fibre broadband by March 2016. This was achieved six months ahead of schedule and we are well on track to hit our overall target of 95% coverage by end 2017. Commercial coverage alone would only have reached 66%.
Over 500,000 premises have been connected through DSSB so far; and, on average, the programme is connecting 7,000 new homes and businesses every week. Over 6,200 km of cabling has been laid across Scotland, including 400 km of sub-sea cabling in the Highlands and Islands. Alongside the infrastructure deployment, both projects are delivering demand stimulation initiatives to raise awareness of the benefits of fibre broadband and to drive take-up of services.
The Scottish Government has also established Community Broadband Scotland ( CBS), a £7.5 million initiative to support innovative community-led solutions in the hardest to reach areas least likely to have a solution delivered by the DSSB programme. CBS is actively supporting 92 communities across Scotland and has so far awarded funding of £2.5 million to 65 projects. This includes the Gigaplus Argyll project, which is delivering a community-owned superfast wireless network covering 1,400 homes and businesses across a number of island communities in Argyll. A number of similar projects are either at, or about to enter, the procurement stage.
We are also collaborating with mobile operators on a range of initiatives aimed at unlocking infrastructure investment and improving mobile coverage across Scotland. In 2015, we successfully delivered a pilot project on the isle of Coll, in partnership with Vodafone and Development Coll. This resulted in 4G services being made available on the island via a community-owned mobile mast. The Scottish Government is assessing the potential for this model to be replicated, as part of a wider infill programme to address mobile 'notspots'. This will be developed further during 2016.
We are also working to maximise the mobile coverage benefits from the UK-wide Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme, which will oversee the transfer of 'blue light' communications to a 4G platform. Our focus is to ensure that, where possible, any new masts delivered through the programme will deliver coverage benefits to the public.
In the year ahead, we will take forward the design and delivery of programmes to extend superfast broadband access to beyond the 95% coverage that will be delivered by the DSSB programme; extend mobile coverage to 'notspots'; and continue our work with Scottish Futures Trust to determine how we can most effectively support industry to deliver a 5G-ready infrastructure across all of Scotland.