What is the aim of the project and how is it being funded?
The Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project is a £410m investment designed to deliver better broadband to many areas which have not been reached by the commercial market. In our region the investment is £146m.
The contract target was for 84% of Highlands and Islands premises to have access to a fibre broadband network being developed across the region. Every local authority area in the region will see more than 7 out of 10 premises covered. The 84% target has been achieved and roll-out is continuing in 2017 to reach at least 86% of premises within the existing contract.
The public contribution is £126.4m with an additional £19.4M coming from BT. The public sector investment of £126.4m is being delivered through the Scottish Government broadband fund, which incorporates funding from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), and also includes up to £12m from HIE’s own budget. There is no European funding involved in the initial phase of the roll-out project.
The overall aim of the Digital Highlands and Islands Project is to help meet the Broadband targets set out by the European Commission, the UK Government and the Scottish Government.
The Scottish Government is currently planning the next phase of delivery for Scotland. it has committed to 100% access to superfast by 2021.
What difference will it make?
The difference you could see in your day to day online activity could be significant, particularly depending on the broadband you have just now. Some people in the region already have reasonable speeds, for others it’s tricky to download files or see your favourite programme on a watch again service.
Fibre is the most advanced broadband technology there is and it provides the fastest and most reliable connection available in the world today.
The project allows us to create a future proofed network. While you might be happy enough just now, you may want to consider how you could do more with fibre or how it might benefit you into the future – particularly as the number of data hungry products online continue to grow.
Fibre broadband is a social and economic driver – opening up opportunities for existing companies and attracting new businesses to our communities. It’s important we have the infrastructure that will allow them to work flexibly, maximise efficiencies, and compete globally from all across the region.
Benefits of fibre based broadband include:
Faster and more reliable broadband, regardless of how many people in your home or office are all online at the same time.
Internet speeds of up to 80 Mbps (or even up to 330 Mbps where you have fibre to your premise.)
Capability to connect with friends, colleagues, customers in new ways – saving money by using internet based programmes for video or audio calls
Faster upload and download times
Improved efficiency with access to latest business software and ways to share data online. This could be anything from sharing calendars and diaries to cloud accounting services or data storage.
Flexible working and studying from home
Access to public services, including health care from the comfort of your own home
How to check if fibre broadband is available
Fibre broadband is now available to over 200,000 homes and businesses in the region, in more than 230 towns and villages. These services are available both as a result of the Digital Scotland project and through BT's own commercial roll-out.
It may be that you can already get it. Did you know that when it is available you will have to order it? Fibre based broadband is entirely separate from current ‘ADSL’ services, so you won’t just be automatically upgraded.
In our ‘Can I get it’ section there are three ways to gain an overview of what is happening with roll-out:
1. Put your telephone number or postcode area in our checker. It gives you an idea of whether roll-out is happening in your area, and a rough timescale for the first services going live. Please note that in the early stages of roll-out this really just gives you an idea of the areas we are in - not the actual villages. Unfortunately, just because we are working in your area, it doesn't mean you will definitely be drawn into the programme. It's not until the cabinets are in place that we can specifically provide information on services available. The exchange buildings themselves aren't relevant in this roll-out.
2. If you want a wider overview of how roll-out is progressing you can see a list of areas where we are currently working. If services are available we have listed the cabinet numbers.
3. in our news section www.hie.co.uk/digitalnews there is an update document for every local authority area. This gives an overview of where servcies are live and what is in planning.
Will the fibre network reach me?
Our project has been designed to reach as many people as possible as quickly as possible within the available budget. However, we know we won’t reach everyone.
The project design takes many aspects into account including existing infrastructure, technical and physical feasibility, and ensuring the people of the Highlands and Islands get best value for the investment.
The interactive map does give you an indication of areas where we are working, progress and does highlight the areas where we're still exploring potential solutions.
As we work in each area we model the infrastructure to reach as many people as possible. The exchanges themselves have become less important as we are putting in new infrastructure. Primarily this is delivered in the shape of cabinets or nodes.
So until we are working in your area and placing the most approriate infrastructure in the best location it is difficult to say exactly who will be reached.
Where roll-out is happening it can come in stages. Where towns and villages are already served by telecoms cabinets we may draw them in and build a new fibre cabinet alongside.
We are also building hundreds of new cabinets to draw in clusters of premises which are currently connected directly to the exchange. In some places this means building two cabinets and re-routing telecoms, so it does take a bit longer. We area also now introducing new 'all in one' cabinets for telecoms and fibre in some places.
The speed of service you get when available is dependent on your distance from your cabinet. Some people connected to a fibre cabinet may be just too far away to benefit. Likewise with fibre to the premise we develop connection nodes, and your ISP will determine whether they can install fibre direct to your premise - you could face challenges in distance and the practical means of getting it to you.
What speed of service might you expect from a cabinet? As a rough rule of thumb if the copper wiring from the cabinet to your home is 1km or less you are likely to see up to superfast speeds of 24 Mbps and more. If you are up to 2kms away you may see an uplift depending on your current speed - but after that distance service falls away quite sharply.
Your internet service provider will be able to confirm if you can order the services.
There are other locations, particularly where there are small numbers of homes, often some distance from each other, which we are not currently able to reach.
Even where we can’t reach you just now, the project does have a benefit. The new fibre backbone will reach deep into the Highlands and Islands and will make finding alternative solutions more likely.
As technology improves, or further funding phases come through, we will be trying to extend coverage even further than the 86% this project contract is now set to reach.
What are you going to do for those who can’t be reached?
The hardest to reach areas will not be forgotten, and there are a range of initiatives already started to find solutions. The Scottish Government has committed to 30Mbps for all in Scotland by 2021.
HIE continues to work with the Digital Scotland partnership to investigate how both the project and coverage can be extended. We have already extended the target coverage from 84 to 86% of premises as a result of good take up and efficiencies in delivery.
Technology may also improve, and tests are already underway in N Tolsta in Lewis looking at extending the distance fibre broadband can travel on the phone lines.
For communities in locations outside of the scope of the current contract, or in areas which look unlikely to achieve coverage, Community Broadband Scotland can also help consider options.
For those who currently receive less than 2Mbps download the Better Broadband scheme developed by the UK government provides a subsidy to those eligible for up to £350 towards the installation of satellite or wireless.
Will any new jobs be created or any existing jobs protected as a direct result of the project i.e. engineering jobs?
In order to cope with increased demand from customers, BT has already increased recruitment in Scotland including employing additional people in Openreach. BT anticipates that during the four years of the build programme a significant engineering workforce, in the hundreds, will be required with associated economic benefits to the local communities.
In the longer term, BT expects to create a number of jobs in the Highlands and Islands during and after the completion of the programme.
The Scottish Government has created Community Broadband Scotland (CBS). CBS, which is delivered by HIE, has the primary aim of helping people in communities who are least likely to benefit from the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband investment get connected to faster broadband in a way which gives them (as close as possible) equality with those in more urban or connected areas.
CBS offers advice, guidance and significant capital funding (100% of scoping and up to 89% of capital investment cost) for communities who are willing to own, and in some cases operate the assets required to bring better broadband to their residents.
CBS works with communities, helping them to understand the likelihood of connectivity under roll-out, and if it is unlikely helping them scope a technical solution and develop a viable business plan.
What else are you doing to support this project?
HIE’s activity around this project is wider than providing the infrastructure. We are also committed to supporting communities and businesses to make the most of whatever internet access they have now and to prepare for the new capabilities next generation broadband will bring. Our activity includes:
Running an IT Business and Community support programme in partnership with Business Gateway which offers free advice, information, events and online resources. This includes the highly popular Digital Health Checks and Digital Workshops.
Working with Citizens Online to help people go online via the ‘Get IT Together project’.
Working with e-Skills UK to develop future IT talent.
What Fibre product should business and residential customers potentially expect?
The introduction of fibre to the region changes the face of broadband connections in the region.
For domestic and small business customers ‘fibre to the cabinet’ technology delivers download speeds of up to 80 Mbps, with ‘fibre to the premise’ up to 330 Mbps.
If the internet is a vital part of your business, you may wish to look at the business packages available from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). A domestic broadband solution may not meet your needs. Business packages offer specific benefits and service level agreements.
Leased lines are available over copper and also over fibre (Ethernet). Dedicated Ethernet lines have major benefits for businesses and offers speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbits). At its top rate, Ethernet can transmit an astonishing 10 billion bits of information per second.
The investment in fibre in the region will result in Ethernet becoming much more widely available.