Super fast broadband was officially introduced to Shetland today with the announcement that 4,000 properties will have access to the system, with that number expanding to 75 per cent coverage in 2016.
And the managing director of BT’s Next Generation Broadband has said that it will be possible to connect virtually all Shetland properties given the will and a co-operative approach.
To mark the occasion a ceremony was held at one of the telecommunications cabinets outside the Böd of Gremista. The cabinet is one of 17 to be installed in the initial phase that will see the fibre network available to customers in Lerwick, Quarff and Sumburgh.
Shetland is the first island group in Scotland to see the roll out of super fast broadband. The infrastructure is already in place thanks to the Faroese cable that runs through the isles to the Scottish coast near Banff.
The £146 million network, being delivered by a partnership of the Scottish and UK governments, Broadband Delivery UK and HIE is to bring super fast broadband to all of Scotland, with recognition that the remote Highlands and Islands could benefit most from the links.
However, outlying areas like Unst will be last to be connected, as the most economical way to do it is start with the larger population centres.
An invited audience in Mareel heard a presentation on Wednesday outlining where the project is at and what will happen next.
HIE director of regional development Carroll Buxton said it was a “really important day for Shetland” and “one of the biggest economic development projects we have seen for quite some time.”
Advocate General for Scotland Lord Jim Wallace, who was Orkney and Shetland MP for 18 years, was in Lerwick to mark the announcement.
He said: “I really valued the opportunity to be in Lerwick today and meet some of the people and businesses that will benefit from today’s announcement. Shetland has been part of my life for many years and I know that this project – bringing together Scotland’s two governments with
Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Shetland Council, BT and others – will be welcomed by businesses, families and individual Shetlanders alike.
“This is the first of Scotland’s island communities to benefit from the roll-out of fibre broadband and it must just be the start, as more communities aspire to have access to what is increasingly seen as a necessary utility like electricity.
“Superfast broadband is a prime example of cutting edge technology becoming an essential part of everyday life. That is why the UK government is investing more than £120 million into rural broadband in Scotland to help support families, jobs and services and to help our businesses to expand and grow.”
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott welcomed the improvements to broadband services but has pressed for the improvements to reach the rest of Shetland as quickly as possible so that other island areas are not left behind.
Mr Scott said: “I welcome the improved broadband service that will benefit people in Lerwick, Sumburgh and Quarff. I have pressed for the improvements to reach the rest of Shetland as quickly as possible, otherwise areas of the islands that would really benefit from an improved broadband service and some which may not even have a service at all risk being left behind.
“The outer isles and Unst in particular are not part of this investment plan and I have urged both Governments and BT to redouble their efforts to secure the best possible service for these parts of Shetland.
“The NHS across Shetland has GP and staffing shortages and these would be helped if broadband were available at a higher standard at Baltasound and in other islands. Broadband also can help to slow down the remorseless pull into Lerwick. We need all the local agencies to work hard to support the rural and isolated parts of Shetland through all of their policies including broadband.”