Councillors look set to be asked to sanction a £1 million spend on connecting the isles’ infrastructure to a fibre optic cable from Faroe, with the SIC tiring of BT’s persistent refusal to move quickly to help improve broadband services in the isles.
A £60,000 study into hooking up to the cable at Maywick, laid by a Faroese company last year, is still ongoing but head of economic development Neil Grant said it was his “strong gut feeling” that there was a sound economic case for making the seven-figure investment – which he hopes can not only improve service for existing businesses and customers but help to attract new IT firms to the isles. Mr Grant said the money would essentially go on the 20 or so miles of cable, running from Maywick to Lerwick, required to establish a broadband “point of presence” in the town.
With the huge volumes of data storage required to keep the internet functioning, the economic development unit is optimistic that, for instance, a data centre or “server farm” could be sited in Shetland – which, situated well away from large cities, has the added benefit of security.
Speaking at the weekly media briefing, Mr Grant said: “One of the biggest economic benefits is in the type of new industry that we could potentially attract on the back of such an investment. There are also existing businesses that bid for work and submit bids electronically that this sort of infrastructure would clearly benefit as well.”
Earlier this year, council chief executive David Clark said it was “appalling” and an “absolute travesty” that the cable hadn’t yet been linked to the isles-wide network and he was determined to find private sector partners willing to make that happen.
BT has leased capacity on the fibre optic cable but in 2008 it became clear that the company had “little or no plans” to improve the network until it rolls out its 21st century network here. That was originally planned for 2012 but there is now no planned implementation date.
Although further meetings are planned, including with BT to see if there has been any shift in the company’s entrenched position, Mr Grant anticipates a report asking members to approve the spend will go forward in October.
He added: “We need to make sure the benefits are there and justified. My strong gut feeling is they are, and we’ve got enough information with us already to suggest that’s what we should be doing.”