Every community in Scotland now has access to affordable broadband services.
Now 378 remote and rural telephone exchange areas have access to broadband, thanks to an ambitious Executive and BT project. This is the largest project of its kind in the UK and is part of the Executive's £24 million broadband initiative.
It means the government has met its commitment to roll out broadband to every community of the country by the end of 2005.
Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen said that the business and educational benefits of broadband coverage to every community are far-reaching. He said:
"Scotland's future economic prosperity depends on our having fast, reliable connections to worldwide communications networks.
"Broadband can make a real difference to businesses, particularly for those in rural areas. It helps them become more efficient, promote their products and services and break into new national and global markets. It is also an important training and educational tool.
"Thanks to Executive support, tremendous progress has been made in broadband provision across Scotland in recent years. The fact that we have now met our commitment to provide broadband in every community in Scotland is very good news."
Brendan Dick, general manager at BT Scotland, said:
"To bring broadband to 378 exchange areas in just eight months is a great engineering achievement.
"The completion of this project is a significant milestone in the delivery and exploitation of broadband enabled communications for Scotland."
The Broadband for Scotland's Remote and Rural Areas project has been funded as part of the Executive's £24 million broadband initiative for Scotland. The project also received financial support of up to £5 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme in Scotland. It was run in partnership with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise.
A contract was signed with BT in April 2005 following an open procurement exercise. This was to provide access to ADSL broadband in 378 telephone exchanges in rural and remote Scotland for which there were no plans for commercial services. This accounts for one-third of all Scottish exchanges. Only one of these exchanges is still to be fully enabled - in Foula in the Shetland Isles. However, an interim broadband solution is already providing broadband access in that area.
The Executive's commitment was to deliver broadband to every community in Scotland by the end of 2005. For the purpose of defining 'community', the Executive used 'census output areas' (COAs) which are the smallest building blocks for the higher order definitions of communities within the census. A typical COA will contain around 50 households. There are 1,615 COAs in the Executive's project. Several COAs - representing just 0.3 per cent of the total covered by the project - currently have no coverage, but these will be provided with broadband access by spring.
There are also 21 (non-commercial) exchange areas in the Western Isles, covered by a separate project called Connected Communities, led by HIE. This largely wireless network has launched services in the majority of these areas - see www.hebrides.net - with the remainder expected to receive access in the next few months.
There may be some instances where households who live distant from their exchange cannot access broadband, because of the technical limitations of ADSL (copper) technology. This 'out of reach' issue is UK-wide. Whilst the Executive is not committed to providing broadband to every household, it has however been working to identify any clusters of 'out of reach' households in Scotland where there is a demand for broadband. The Executive is developing the next steps for providing solutions to these 'clusters' over 2006, subject to criteria, including budget and value for money.