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'Momentous day' as fibre broadband arrives in Stornoway

Tuesday, July 7th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Fibre broadband is now available in Stornoway as the superfast rollout across the Scottish Highlands and Islands continues.

Around 3,600 premises in the Outer Hebridean town will be the first to have access to superfast speeds following what has been described as a “momentous day”.

Customers connected to the network through the first 11 live street cabinets across Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, and nearby Tong, can order as soon as services become available through internet service providers.

Once connected, they will be able to take advantage of download speeds of up to 80Mbps.

The connections, part of the Digital Scotland superfast broadband project, are the first step in a £146m rollout which will see the majority of premises across the Outer Hebrides better connected by the end of 2016.

Scotland’s deputy first minister John Swinney said: “This is a momentous day and a huge first step in transforming the future of connectivity for communities and businesses across the Outer Hebrides.

“This investment is designed to reach Scotland’s remoter communities, none of which would have seen these kinds of connections through the commercial market.”

He said the Digital Scotland programme is making “strong progress” each week with around 7,000 new premises being able to access fibre, moving towards the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver world class connectivity in Scotland by 2020.

Digital minister Ed Vaizey said: "This is brilliant news for homes and businesses on the Outer Hebrides who can now, for the first time, access superfast speeds.

“The UK Government is investing £120m in Scotland as part of its transformation of the UK's digital landscape that will see 95% of the nation have access to superfast speeds by 2017."

The project is being led in the region by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), with work on the ground being carried out by BT Openreach.

'Game-changing'

It is funded by the Scottish Government and the UK Government, as well as HIE and BT.

The delivery of fibre broadband to the Outer Hebrides and wider Highlands and Islands has been described as the most complex undertaken in the UK.

HIE chief executive Alex Paterson said: “The scale of the challenge to bring modern, fast and reliable broadband to our remotest areas is huge.

“On the Outer Hebrides the project has seen five subsea cables for inter-island and mainland links installed last year, and fibre cabling now runs the length of the islands.

“Over the course of the next year we will see the rollout of this game-changing network reach at least 70% of premises across the islands.

“We won’t stop there and we are ambitious that the huge step up in capacity that it brings will help us find solutions for more and more people in even the hardest to reach areas.”

The first services in Stornoway are being delivered by fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) technology. ‘Exchange only’ customers – those connected direct to their exchange – will be connected later in the year.

BT CEO Gavin Patterson said: “This has been the most complex subsea project BT has tackled in UK waters and the first time we’ve laid so many seabed cables in a single operation.

Paying tribute to the team’s hard work, he added: “This spider’s web of submarine fibre optic cables is delivering a seismic shift in communications for Scotland’s island communities, bringing them in closer touch with the rest of the world than ever before.”

The fibre rollout for more areas of the Outer Hebrides is scheduled for next year and will use exchange-only, FTTC, and possibly some fibre to the premises (FTTP) technology.

The current rollout phase is unlikely to reach everybody, but an Innovation Fund will explore how alternative technologies can be used to provide solutions for people in the hardest-to-reach areas.

It is expected that services will be available to around 70% of premises by the end of 2016.

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