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Highlands to benefit from £8 million broadband package from UK government

By Gordon Calder

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Thousands of rural homes across the north will have access to fibre broadband.
Thousands of rural homes across the north will have access to fibre broadband.

Rural homes and businesses in the Highlands will be among the areas in Scotland to benefit from an £8 million package to provide faster broadband speeds.

The money was announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, when he presented his budgeted in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The money will benefit 3600 hard-to-reach rural homes and businesses in the Highlands, Moray, Perth and Kinross, Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Angus which will be given access to next generation broadband through the UK government’s Project Gigabit. The premises identified all have sub-superfast speeds below 30 megabits per second.

The 3600 homes and businesses were due to be upgraded to superfast broadband as part of the Scottish Government’s Reaching 100 per cent (R100) programme. But, as a result of a new agreement between the UK and Scottish governments, these areas will now get access to even faster full fibre broadband, capable of download speeds of 1000 megabits – or one gigabit – a second.

Gigabit-capable broadband has the bandwidth and reliability needed for several people to work from home, stream ultra high definition video content and play next-generation online games all at the same time. According to the government, it will help accelerate the country’s recovery from Covid-19, fire up high-growth sectors such as tech and the creative industries, and enable people to start and run businesses online from anywhere in the UK.

North MP Jamie Stone described the plans as a “welcome boost”.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said: “Though it remains to be seen exactly how many properties in the Highlands will benefit from this funding, I am pleased to see a focus on the north of Scotland.

"For too long Highland broadband speeds have lagged behind those of our neighbours, and it is high time that corrective action was taken.

“Wherever it comes from, funding for critical Highland infrastructure will always be a welcome boost. I hope that the UK and Scottish governments will work together constructively to roll this out at pace.”

Project Gigabit is the biggest broadband rollout in UK history and part of the UK Prime Minister’s plan to level up communities across the UK with the connectivity people will need for the next 40 years. More areas in Scotland to benefit from Project Gigabit will be announced in the months ahead.

UK Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said: "Project Gigabit is our programme to level up communities in Scotland and the UK with internet connections people need now and in the coming decades.

"Our £8 million investment will end battles over bandwidth in hard-to-reach homes across northern Scotland and be the rocket fuel rural businesses need to grow and take advantage of new technologies."

Scotland’s Economy Secretary Kate Forbes said: "The role of digital connectivity cannot be underestimated as we work to ensure Scotland recovers from the pandemic with a stronger, greener and fairer economy.

Kate Forbes says improved access to faster broadband can play a key role in people's lives
Kate Forbes says improved access to faster broadband can play a key role in people's lives

"For Scottish residents and businesses, particularly in remote and rural areas, improved access to faster broadband plays a key role in our everyday lives while we continue to work, learn and access public services remotely.

"The £384 million we are investing, alongside £8 million of UK government funding, will ensure that all R100 contract build in the north of Scotland will be fibre to the premises, capable of delivering gigabit speeds and providing future-proofed, resilient connectivity to some of our most remote and rural communities."

The £8 million from Project Gigabit, on top of the £384 million already committed through R100, will mean that all of the 59,276 premises included in the Scottish Government’s original allocation for the north of Scotland will have access to the best commercial internet connections available.

The projects will help the UK government deliver its target for at least 85 per cent of the UK to have access to a gigabit-capable connection by 2025.

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