Today, The Highland Council and partners within the Highlands, UK Government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Capita and CityFibre announced the completion of a four-year project across Inverness, Fort William, Thurso and Wick, as part of the Building Digital UK (BDUK) Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme.
Following the UK Government’s £4.3m investment, Highland public sector partners contributed the remainder of the capital funding to the entire £7.7m costs for the network infrastructure.
It has now delivered a gigabit speed fibre optic broadband network which will connect 152 public sector sites (schools, university campuses, Highland Council and NHS Highland) in the geographically challenging Highlands of Scotland.
Back in 2019 less than 1% of the Highland region had these next generation connections, a figure that was less than 10% UK wide. The potential of this project for Inverness and the wider Highlands is enormous through improved productivity, inward investment and innovation.
This announcement marks the initial stage of moves to expand the footprint of gigabit, full fibre digital infrastructure to other parts of Highland.
Looking to the future, Scotland is set to benefit from the UK Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit funding, announced in 2021, and allocated to provide gigabit capable speeds to more than a million hard to reach homes and businesses.
The UK and Scottish governments are working together on next steps and an Open Market Review was launched in February by the Scottish Government to understand which areas are due to be covered commercially and where further public subsidy will be required.
HIE provided funding to secure additional benefits for the whole of Fort William by providing a connection to Banavie Primary School, which provided an opportunity to support businesses in Banavie and Corpach. It also ensured the fibre optic link could be bridged across the canal to Lochaber High School, which was a challenging task.
Scott Dingwall, head of regional development at HIE’s Lochaber, Skye and Wester Ross area team said: “We are really pleased to provide additional support for this project to extend enhanced connectivity benefits across the canal in Fort William to Banavie and to Wick Business Park is crucial.
"This extension opens up access to businesses in previously out of reach areas and ensures that maximum economic benefit can be levered for them through CityFibre’s high-speed fibre network.”
The Highland Council is working closely with both governments to identify early opportunities for the region, and where the digital infrastructure funding provided by the Inverness and Highland City Region Deal might improve coverage yet further.
Chair of Highland Council’s strategic communities and place committee, Cllr Allan Henderson, said: “The conclusion of this phase of digital network infrastructure will ensure that Highland will be at the forefront of the digital opportunities, rather than being led.
“The delivery of full fibre to some of the biggest agencies and partners working in the Highlands will introduce the capacity to look at new ways of delivering education, health services, commercial and council services to all of the Highlands. This will improve the quality of services, reduce wait times and reduce costs for partners and the people of the Highlands.”
The fibre optic upgrade is being supported by a collaboration between the Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Natural Heritage, NHS Highland, the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) using the LFFN Public Sector Anchor Tenancy framework.
The LFFN project has stimulated additional commercial rollout in the region, with Cityfibre committed to a £24.5m private investment to expand the full fibre network to cover the majority of premises in Inverness.
Bringing pure fibre optic connectivity to some of the remotest rural towns in Scotland is no mean feat and in theory it could lay the groundwork for a wider roll-out of 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) style services to residents in the near future.