THE NORTH Isles superfast broadband network will be up and running in 2020 according to Marvin Smith of council-owned Shetland Telecom.
Smith said that the Shetland Islands Council led project is working to very tight timetable after winning a near £2m grant from the department of digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) to take the existing fibre network to Yell and Unst.
He said that the council team had worked hard to convince DCMS of the merits of the North Isles project, and added that the government department had been impressed by the small scale and simplicity of what was proposed.
Smith said: “We are hoping to go to tender on it out in the next two months. We will be looking for significant progress before Christmas.”
That means ducts in the ground and cable run through. Smith said he expected work to take place simultaneously at various places along the route, but this was down to the logistical considerations of the contractor.
The funded scheme will extend the existing council network from Graven to Mossbank and Toft and onwards to Yell and Unst and offer ‘gigabit’ connections to schools, health centres, and the like.
Smith said that in the long term running the fibre network throughout Shetland “strategically has to be the way ahead”, and described the investment as an essential development comparable to the roads network.
While the North Isles network is initially to be connected to public facilities, there may be scope for extending it to private properties if state aid rules can be met.
The scheme complements the Scottish Government’s R100 programme which is intended to give every household access to “superfast” (30mbs) broadband.
Smith said it would be interesting to see the outcome of this scheme, but doubted it would hit its target of 100 per cent coverage.
If there is a shortfall, Smith expected the government might launch a token scheme that will pay for communities to make their own arrangements for hooking up to the nearest fibre installation.
He said that the Scottish and UK governments needed to keep investing in broadband as essential support for rural areas.
Smith said that nothing had so-far proved superior to fibre links, whose actual longevity has yet to be determined. Installers reckoned on 25 or 40 years lifespans for fibre networks, but he surmised an undisturbed fibre cable might be good for 100 years.
While fibre is much cheaper than copper per metre, the cost of laying it in plastic ducts was higher. But the social and economic advantages it confers make the case for its installation crystal clear.