31 December 2013

Twenty submarine cables worth £26.9 million to speed up broadband on remote Scottish islands

enlarge map    based on map published by NordNordWest on Wikimedia Commons
Broadband Internet connectivity is about to transform communications for 55,000 people on Scotland's most remote archipelagos. Fourteen islands of the Hebrides as well as Westray (part of the Orkney island) will be connected by an ambitious subsea cabling project which will help deliver fast, fibre broadband to the Highlands and Islands region in the north and west of Scotland. A total of twenty submarine cables with a combined length of 400km will be laid from May to October 2014 in order to provide broadband connectivity even to the smallest islands, two of them counting less than 200 inhabitants. The longest cable will run for nearly 79km under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway (Isle of Lewis), with the Hebrides also benefitting from a second link stretching more than 57km between Carnan on South Uist, and Dunvegan on Skye.

The submarine cable project is worth £26.9 million and will be funded by the £146 million fibre broadband scheme led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and delivered by BT. It was signed in March 2013 to bring high-speed fibre broadband to communities across the north of Scotland.

The public sector investment towards the broadband scheme is £126.4m, delivered through the Scottish Government broadband fund, which incorporates funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), and also includes up to £12m from HIE’s own budget.
BT is investing an additional £19.4 million in the project, on top of its investment in its wider commercial roll-out for the region, taking the total project value to around £146 million.

Upon completion in 2016, 84 percent of properties in the Highlands and Islands region will have fibre broadband with speeds of up to 80Mbps. Today broadband customers on the Hebrides typically receive broadband speeds lower than 2Mbps owed to the limited bandwidth of the current satellite- and microwave-based links to the mainland.

In March 2013 the Scottish government welcomed the broadband scheme, with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling it “one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history” adding that it would improve the local economy, create jobs and make the region more competitive.

Alex Paterson, chief executive of HIE: “This ambitious project is a game changer for the Highlands and Islands. It will roll out modern, fast and reliable broadband to areas that could not have hoped to have it introduced commercially.

“Digital connectivity is essential to today’s social and business activity. High-speed fibre broadband in the Highlands and Islands will make a real contribution to our communities’ prosperity, particularly for people in remote and rural areas.

“It offers opportunities for new ways of working, innovation, enhanced public services, access to international markets and provides the infrastructure needed by business sectors like energy, life sciences, tourism and business services.”

Similar to St Helena the Hebrides’ population continued to dwindle for much of the 20th century as emigration and military service became the choice of many. For those who remained, new economic opportunities have emerged through the export of cattle, commercial fishing and tourism.

List of islands to be connected
North Uist1,254
Great Cumbrae1,376
South Uist1,754
Isle of Mull2,800
Isle of Arran4,629
Isle of Bute6,498
Isle of Skye10,008
Isle of Lewis18,500


High-speed broadband would be huge for education. Not only could we make better use of online materials, but with affordable broadband teachers could develop their practice from home.
I'm an IT engineer and I would love to return to my island to start an IT business, but because of the slow, expensive and unreliable internet connection this is simply impossible.
I had to leave St Helena to study. Being 5000 miles away from my family and friends is hard. Not being able to skype with them due to the slow and expensive internet on St Helena is even harder.
Socioeconomic status is now heavily reliant on broadband penetration. With the ever-growing importance of the internet, St Helena with its limited access is in danger of being left behind.