HIE Consults Public On Broadband Coverage
With the rollout of superfast broadband across the Highlands and Islands looking set to begin next year, the region's development agency is launching a public consultation on current levels of service.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise is asking broadband providers to confirm any plans they may have to upgrade to superfast, and seeking information from local people and businesses about the quality of their current service.
HIE aims to ensure that superfast broadband - delivering speeds of 30 megabits per second (Mbps) or more - is available to everyone in the region by 2020, with significant progress made by 2015.
Last month, the Scottish Government announced a £120m investment package to back the agency's ambitions.
HIE is also seeking co-investment from the private sector, as well as local authorities and the European Union, and has estimated that the total project cost may exceed £200m.
Negotiations between the enterprise agency and BT, as the potential industry partner, are well advanced, following a competitive tender exercise launched last year.
Assuming a successful conclusion, the partners' first action will be to agree a definitive plan of how the region should benefit from the first phase of superfast rollout, starting in 2013.
Last year, HIE published a provisional list of 50 settlements, located throughout the region, which appeared to offer the best potential to introduce the service quickly to a mix of remote mainland and island communities and larger centres.
The present consultation aims to test the accuracy of the information HIE currently holds about current and future broadband provision, and inform discussions leading to a detailed rollout plan.
Stuart Robertson, the agency's Head of Digital, says it is vitally important that such a huge investment is carefully targeted to achieve best value and impact.
"This is probably the largest rural broadband project anywhere in Europe at present," he said.
"We've been very successful so far in securing a substantial amount of the funding we need to make it happen. Now we want to make sure we have the most up to date information, both from customers and suppliers, to inform final decisions on rollout.
"It's important we know where private providers are considering investing in upgrades so we can ensure there's no risk of duplication.
"At the same time, we want members of the public to let us know if the information we hold on current provision is accurate, particularly with regard to download and upload speeds."
Broadband is currently available to around 99 per cent of the Highlands and Islands population. However, average speeds are well below the UK average of 7.6Mbps, with many places only capable of receiving a maximum 0.5Mbps.
HIE's project will make 2Mbps the minimum speed available anywhere in the region by 2015, with most places experiencing a much faster service.
The Highlands and Islands covers more than half of Scotland, yet is home to just eight per cent of the country's population, so the private sector could not be expected to deliver superfast broadband without significant public investment.
For more information, and to take part in the consultation, which runs until 13 August, please visit www.hie.co.uk/digital/consultation.html
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