Superfast broadband plan to islands

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Survey ships will be spotted off Colonsay, Iona and Lismore this summer as work starts to connect the islands to superfast broadband.

Vessels will start planning the routes for subsea cables with the infrastructure job taking place in spring next year, officials have announced.

It is part of the Scottish Government’s £600 million ‘Reaching 100% programme’.

The ‘North Lot’ – worth £384 million – aims to improve connectivity to 15 islands, including Orkney and the Shetland Islands.

Subject to weather conditions, the estimated start date for the route between the mainland and Lismore begins on July 20.

The Colonsay and Mull route follows on July 25, with August 13 seeing the route defined between Iona and Mull, said the government in a statement.

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, minister for energy, connectivity and the islands, said it was a  ‘very significant step’ in its commitment to deliver 100 per cent superfast broadband.

He said: ‘The role of digital connectivity in our everyday lives has never been clearer as we tackle the pandemic.

‘The new subsea cables will ensure these 15 island communities have access to futureproofed, resilient, reliable connections – something that will make a huge difference to both residents and businesses there.

‘It will help improve the quality of life for both current and future islanders, while also benefitting visitors once inbound tourism can safely return.’

He added: ‘Scotland has some of the most challenging locations anywhere in Europe for providing telecommunications infrastructure and this, alongside our interventions on mobile connectivity, demonstrates we are taking innovative steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach areas.’

BT plc will deliver the contracts with Openreach leading on the infrastructure build including the 16 subsea cables.

Robert Thorburn, partnership director at Openreach Scotland, said: ‘The subsea build is essential to bring reliable, fast broadband to those island communities which don’t yet have access.

‘It’s a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved and the sensitive and complex nature of the work, but also the fact it must be done while the weather is on our side.

‘Our subsea partner Global Marine will have survey ships out in Scottish waters this spring and summer to start planning the cable routes.

‘The advent of superfast broadband on our islands, through a previous subsea partnership, has been truly transformative.

‘We’re hugely excited about the positive impact this latest R100 subsea build will have on island life.’

Bruce Neilson-Watts, managing director of Global Marine, said: ‘This is an exciting project for us that will have a hugely positive impact on the residents of the Scottish islands included in the scope of the work.

‘Quicker and more reliable connectivity is extremely valuable, never more so than right now with the world operating much more remotely than it ever has done.’