Contracts valued at £27 million have been awarded by BT for what it says is its biggest ever subsea engineering project in UK territorial waters, bringing high speed broadband services to the Scottish islands.
Three companies have been given the work of laying subsea high speed fibre optic cables under the Minch from Ullapool on the Scottish mainland to Stornoway in the Western Isles. Chelmsford based Global Marine Systems will carry out detailed marine route surveys and supply the cables; French company Orange Marine will lay some 250 miles of subsea cable; and Hampshire based A-2-Sea Solutions will carry out related onshore works to connect the cables to BT’s terrestrial network.
The main cable will run for almost 50 miles and there will be 20 shorter cables connecting other areas of the Hebrides and the Northern Isles.
The contracts are part of a £146 million investment agreed between BT and development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) earlier this year to bring high speed broadband to communities throughout the north of Scotland. The project is led by HIE and is being delivered by BT, with £126.4 million of public money and £19.4 million from BT.
Some 84% of Highlands and Islands homes and businesses are to have access to the latest high speed fibre optic broadband by the end of 2016. The overall project will involve laying more than 497 miles of cable on land and about 250 miles of subsea cable. Bringing broadband to the Highlands and Islands has been called one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history, seen by the Scottish government as providing a platform for economic development and regeneration.
BT Scotland director Brendan Dick 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.”