Lochaber to benefit from new multi-million-pound broadband investment

Councillor Allan Henderson celebrates the completion of the full fibre broadband project with (left -right) Michael Kelly from the UK Government's Department of Media, Culture and Sport, Scott Steele, Head Teacher, Lochaber High School and Scott Dingwall of HIE. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image.

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Public sector and businesses in and around Fort William are now equipped to deliver next generation connectivity thanks to multi-agency investment into digital infrastructure.

The Highland Council and partners within the Highlands, UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Capita and CityFibre announced the completion of a four-year project across Inverness, Fort William, Thurso and Wick, last week as part of the Building Digital UK (BDUK) Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme.

Following the UK Government’s £4.3million investment, Highland public sector partners contributed the remainder of the capital funding to the entire £7.7m costs for the network infrastructure.

It has now delivered a gigabit speed fibre optic broadband network which will connect 152 public sector sites (schools, university campuses, Highland Council and NHS Highland) in the geographically challenging Highlands of Scotland.

The announcement marks the initial stage of moves to expand the footprint of gigabit, full fibre digital infrastructure to other parts of Highland.

The Highland Council is working closely with both governments to identify early opportunities for the region, and where the digital infrastructure funding provided by the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal might improve coverage yet further.

Chairman of Highland Council’s Strategic Communities and Place Committee, Councillor Allan Henderson, said: ‘The conclusion of this phase of digital network infrastructure will ensure that Highland will be at the forefront of the digital opportunities, rather than being led.

‘The delivery of full fibre to some of the biggest agencies and partners working in the Highlands will introduce the capacity to look at new ways of delivering education, health services, commercial and council services to all of the Highlands. This will improve the quality of services, reduce wait times and reduce costs for partners and the people of the Highlands.’

The fibre optic upgrade is being supported by a collaboration between the Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage, NHS Highland, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) using the LFFN Public Sector Anchor Tenancy framework.

Planning and installation activities have been running from February 2018 and were only slightly delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise provided funding to secure additional benefits for the whole of Fort William by providing a connection to Banavie Primary School which provided an opportunity to support businesses in Banavie and Corpach. It also ensured the fibre optic link could be bridged across the canal to Lochaber High School, which was a challenging task.

Scott Dingwall, head of regional development at HIE’s Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross area team said: ‘We are really pleased to provide additional support for this project to extend enhanced connectivity benefits across the canal in Fort William to Banavie and to Wick Business Park is crucial.

‘This extension opens up access to businesses in previously out of reach areas and ensures that maximum economic benefit can be levered for them through CityFibre’s high-speed fibre network.’