BT signs islands broadband contracts

Scottish island communities have moved a step closer to getting high-speed fibre optic broadband services.

Telecommunications giant BT has signed a contract worth almost £27m with three firms who will help lay the subsea cables across to the islands.

The longest cable will run for almost 50 miles under the Minch from Ullapool to Stornoway on the Western Isles.

There will also be 20 shorter ones connecting other parts of the Hebrides and Northern Isles.

Work is due to begin in March on the scheme, which is being subsidised by the development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Chelmsford-based Global Marine Systems will conduct detailed marine route surveys and supply the cables; Orange Marine, which is based in France but works globally, has been contracted to lay about 250 miles of subsea cables; while Hampshire-based A-2-Sea Solutions has been chosen to work onshore, connecting the cables to BT's terrestrial network.

'Massive challenge'

BT said it will be the biggest subsea engineering project it has ever carried out in UK territorial waters.

The three contracts are part of an £146m investment project launched with HIE in March to bring high-speed fibre broadband to communities across the north of Scotland.

The plans will give about 84% of Highlands and Islands homes and businesses access to fibre broadband by the end of 2016.

Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland, said: "The size of the task presents a massive challenge, not only because of the number of cables involved but also the fact that the work has to be completed within a single, six-month weather window.

"The pressure is on but we're confident that in just over a year's time, the Highlands and Islands will be set to benefit from its own network of underwater, fibre optic cables."

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