Residents of Great Bernera are to be among the first in the UK who will be able to order installation of the fastest fibre broadband connections currently available, it was announced today (Wednesday August 28th).

A collaboration between BT Openreach and the £442 million Digital Scotland (DSSB) project means that 220 homes in Great Bernera should now be able to install ‘full-fibre ultrafast broadband’, with speeds of 30 megabytes per second (30Mbps+). Previous download speeds were around 2Mbps.

The project has cost about £4,000 per household, with 90km of new fibre cables laid to serve Great Bernera and Grimsay (Benbecula) which has also received the new service.

But the benefits outweigh the costs, according to Scottish Government Minister for Public Health Joe FitzPatrick, who said today: “Full fibre not only enables local industries to engage fully online, but future-proofs the island for economic development and growth. In a world where technology is a main driver, good connectivity levels the playing field, creating new opportunities and stemming depopulation.

“It will also undoubtedly be of great benefit to residents in the area when it comes to healthcare. Programmes such as Attend Anywhere gives patients the ability to have virtual appointments with healthcare professionals via their laptop, tablet or mobile – a service the residents of Grimsay and Great Bernera can now access.

“However, we recognise that not everyone has access to such services and that more must be done. This is why, despite the reserved nature of telecoms in the United Kingdom, we have made the commitment to deliver 100% superfast broadband access in Scotland and backed that commitment with the substantial investment of £600 million in the procurement phase for the Reaching 100% programme.”

The Reaching 100% (R100) programme requires installation of subsea cables, the routes for which were identified in 2014. They included Stornoway to Ullapool, Lochmaddy to Leverburgh and Lochboisdale to Eriskay cables, some of which have already been laid.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s director for Scotland, said today:
“When we started planning the Digital Scotland rollout, Western Isles was hands down the most difficult place to build. It has the lowest population density in the UK and many communities are comprised of remote and scattered households.

“This project is a game-changer for the people of the Western Isles, with a lasting legacy for the future. Technology is truly life-changing – opening up markets and innovation for businesses and connecting islanders to each other, the world and vital services.”

Picture from BT Openreach