Background to connectivity in the Highlands and Islands

Over the last 20 years, the Highlands and Islands has seen considerable advances in telecoms connectivity as a result of the joint investment of the public and private sectors. In the last decade almost £14m of public money has helped provide good coverage of both basic broadband and 2G voice and text services.

It is estimated that around 95% of premises in the region can access broadband through their phone line, with the remaining 5% able to receive a service through HIE’s Connected Communities project in the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish Government’s Broadband Reach project using wireless and satellite technology.

Although current broadband availability is good when compared with many other European countries, broadband take up and speeds are limited.  Many parts of the region struggle because of their distance from the local telephone exchange or as a result of limited technology available, particularly in some of the region’s smallest exchanges.

Access to services like ADSL2+, which can offer speeds of up to 20Mbps, 3G Mobile broadband and Ethernet services - high speed private broadband circuits used by large businesses, the public sector, Internet Service Providers and mobile phone operators - are limited.

Research commissioned by HIE from Analysys Mason in 2009 to assess strengths and weakness of the region’s digital infrastructure showed that roll out of Next Generation Broadband (NGB), would, at best, lag some years behind other regions and, at worst, be limited to larger population centres.

HIE therefore undertook a consultation in 2010 with Local Authorities, business representatives and other key stakeholders across the region to find solutions.

This led to the publication of a Connectivity Route Map and a successful bid to BDUK for funding for a “pilot” project. However, with the support of BDUK and the Scottish Government, HIE quickly realised that this initial funding presented a springboard to deliver something which could transform connectivity for the region.

The agency embarked on a procurement to appoint a suitably experienced partner to co-invest in the provision of NGB services accross the region.  BT emerged as sole bidder and a contract was signed in March 2013.

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