Work to lay new subsea cables that will supply superfast broadband to 15 Scottish islands will begin before the summer, the Scottish Government has announced.
The cables will improve connectivity to Colonsay, Eigg, Eday, Fair Isle, Flotta, Hoy, Iona, Lismore, Rousay, Sanday, Shapinsay, Stronsay, Unst, Whalsey and Yell.
This forms part of the £384m North of Scotland contract the Scottish Government signed with BT in December as part of its £600m R100 programme.
Weather permitting, survey vessels aim to begin detailed groundwork in May, with cable laying beginning in spring 2022.
Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the IsIands Paul Wheelhouse said: “Just a few months on from announcing the signing of the North Lot contract, this is another very significant step towards ensuring our commitment to deliver 100 per cent superfast broadband across Scotland, including to some of our most remote island communities.
“The role of digital connectivity in our everyday lives has never been clearer as we tackle the pandemic.
“The new subsea cables will ensure these 15 island communities have access to futureproofed, resilient, reliable connections – something that will make a huge difference to both residents and businesses there.
“It will help improve the quality of life for both current and future islanders, while also benefitting visitors once inbound tourism can safely return.
“Scotland has some of the most challenging locations anywhere in Europe for providing telecommunications infrastructure and this alongside our interventions on mobile connectivity, demonstrates we are taking innovative steps to provide superfast access to some of the hardest-to-reach areas.
“We have also developed plans, in parallel with main infrastructure investment, to ensure our 100 per cent superfast commitment is met with our Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme.
“This will ensure that everyone can access and benefit from this world-leading digital capability.”
Robert Thorburn, partnership director at Openreach Scotland, said: “The subsea build is essential to bring reliable, fast broadband to those island communities which don’t yet have access.
“It’s a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved and the sensitive and complex nature of the work, but also the fact it must be done while the weather is on our side.
“Our subsea partner Global Marine will have survey ships out in Scottish waters this spring and summer to start planning the cable routes.
“The advent of superfast broadband on our islands, through a previous subsea partnership, has been truly transformative.
“We’re hugely excited about the positive impact this latest R100 subsea build will have on island life.”
Bruce Neilson-Watts, managing director of Global Marine, said: “This is an exciting project for us that will have a hugely positive impact on the residents of the Scottish islands included in the scope of the work.
“Quicker and more reliable connectivity is extremely valuable, never more so than right now with the world operating much more remotely than it ever has done.”