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War time barriers open access to broadband network of the future

30 November 2015

A series of causeways built on the orders of Churchill in the 1940s are helping make the roll-out of high speed fibre broadband possible for a number of Orkney Islands’ communities.

Over 4,700 local homes and businesses are now able to access the new fibre broadband network thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme. The village of Burray is the first place off the Orkney mainland to see coverage coming through. This is available now to the north part of the village, and additional coverage is coming through in the coming weeks for the village centre.

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

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading the £146m project in the region. It’s funded by the Scottish Government, the UK Government, HIE and private sector partner BT, with engineers from BT’s local network business Openreach delivering the project on the ground.
Stuart Robertson, HIE’s Director of Digital, said: “Building a fibre optic network across the Highlands and Islands presents its own unique stories. 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. Nowhere is forgotten and in addition to this first phase we, and our colleagues in Community Broadband Scotland, are already looking at ways to reach further.”
Robert Thorburn, BT programme manager, 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. We’re grateful for the support from Orkney Islands Council and local landowners as we work together to agree the locations for these.”

Customers in villages where roll-out has started can check availability here. When fibre based services are available you can order from Internet Service Providers.

Leave a comment

Ron Ferguson 23/12/2015

"With the main fibre spine almost all in place" - really? The reality is that no more than 70 per cent of Orkney homes will be covered. Those who need super-fast broadband most are those who live in the more rural areas. As ever, it's the big battalions that are served first, generating pleasing headlines, but giving a misleading impression about the extent of the coverage. It looks as if the more remote areas will only get super-fast broadband if they generate extra funding. They are already punished by means of extra delivery charges for goods from mainland Scotland - now this.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise 11/01/2016

Hi Ron, we're doing all we can to reach as many as we can. Given that there would have been no commercial roll-out anywhere north of Dingwall, this phase 1 of the project is reaching many communities which would not have had coverage. We do want to go further and bringing the fibre closer makes it more likely that we can build out in future phases - possibly using a variety of technologies. Digital Scotland partners, including Community Broadband Scotland, are looking at how we help more people benefit from better broadband.

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