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Churchill's causeways helping fibre broadband rollout in Orkney

Monday, November 30th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A series of historic causeways built in Scotland in the Second World War are helping take fibre broadband to a number of Orkney Islands communities.

The Churchill Barriers, built on the orders of Winston Churchill after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U-boat in 1939, are being used to run network cables to help the rollout of superfast broadband.

The barriers, which join the Orkney mainland to Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray and S Ronaldsay, were built to block the channels between the islands and protect the fleet at Scapa Flow.

Work was completed on them four days after VE Day in May 1945.

The causeways have served as vital road links ever since and are now playing a role in helping the rollout of fibre broadband to the Orkney Islands.

More than 4,700 local homes and businesses can now access the new fibre network as part of the £146m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, led in the region by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The first place off the Orkney mainland to get coverage is the village of Burray. Fibre is now available in the north part of the village with extra coverage for the village centre expected in the coming weeks.

Around 500 extra Orkney homes and businesses are expected by Christmas, including in St Mary’s and St Margaret’s Hope. Areas already offering services include Kirkwall, Stromness, Finstown and Harray.

Stuart Robertson, HIE’s director of digital, said: “Building a fibre optic network across the Highlands and Islands presents its own unique stories.

'Unique engineering feat'

“In Orkney, history is playing its part. The Churchill Barriers, built to protect the fleet at Scapa Flow, have allowed us to run the main network cable from Kirkwall to Holm, to Burray and on to St Margaret’s Hope.

“For Westray, we laid around 28km of subsea cabling across the Bay of Tuquoy.”

“By the end of next year we will have taken access to fibre optic based broadband in Orkney from zero to at least 76% of premises.”

He said nowhere would be forgotten and both HIE and Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) are looking at ways to reach further.

BT programme manager Robert Thorburn said: “It’s brilliant to be using a unique engineering feat from the 40s to deliver the latest 21st century technology to some of Scotland’s most remote communities.

“Churchill ordered the barriers to be built to keep the Germans out after a U-boat sneaked into Scapa Flow and sank the Royal Oak.

“Now we’re using them to let the whole, wide world in at high-speed.

“In terms of the overall programme, more than half of the current, planned work in Orkney is complete.

“With the main fibre spine almost all in place, work continues to build the local green cabinets which bring services to homes and businesses.”

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