The Highlands and Islands will see more fibre broadband coverage for homes and businesses into 2017, thanks to the early success of the region’s Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) project.

Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for the rural economy and connectivity, announced today (31 October) that strong take up figures mean that an additional £2.3m is being re-invested back into the project

Mr Ewing said: “There is nowhere in the UK where a broadband project has made a bigger difference to connectivity than in the Highlands and Islands.

“This first phase of roll-out has significantly increased access, with coverage across the region to be at least 84% compared to just 21% that would have been delivered commercially.”

He added: “Thanks to the success of the DSSB project, I am delighted that more premises than originally planned will now have the opportunity to benefit from reliable broadband.”

BT has achieved efficiencies in the current contract and has also offered to return ‘gainshare’ funding early after strong take-up, so a further 6,000 premises will be reached by the project next year. 

It will take total access to the fibre network in the region (including commercial roll-out) to around 86%.

The Outer Hebrides currently have more than 7,400 premises drawn into the fibre network through the project. There are 56 new fibre cabinets across the islands, which are reaching around 48% of premises so far.

Areas that are live already include Back, Balallan, Barvas, Borve, Callanish, Carloway, Crossbost, Eriskay, Garrabost, Harris (Tarbert), Leverburgh, North Tolsta, Shawbost and Stornoway.

And the island areas set to see some roll out (including extended coverage) are: Benbecula, Berneray, Carnan, Castlebay, Gravir, Grogarry, Lochboisdale, Locheport, Lochmaddy, Ness, Northbay, Scarista, Scalpay, and Sollas.

BT Scotland director, Brendan Dick, said: “Bringing fibre broadband to the Highlands and Islands has been a huge challenge for our engineers on a par with building a new Forth Bridge or Borders Rail Link.

“It's great that high take-up levels in many areas are triggering further investment to extend the rollout.

“We share and support our partners' ambition to go further and will continue to work closely with HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) to identify opportunities to surpass the 6,000 extra permises we now aim to include during 2017.”

Mr Dick added: “We've already seen many engineering innovations in this mammoth project, and there is more to come.”

Charlotte Wright, Chief Executive at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), said: “Superfast broadband is now available to order in 200 towns and villages which would not have been reached without the public investment.

“By the time we are finished in 2017 there will be even more. In addition, four areas which were not initially on the roll-out will see some coverage – Duntulm and Sligachan in Skye; Sandness in Shetland; and Scarista in the Western Isles.”

She added: “The next steps will be to look at how we reach further and ultimately ensure that we can get superfast speeds to all.

“This will include areas not yet reached, as well as those who are part of the network already but currently too far from the current cabinets to have achieved superfast speeds.”