After buffering their way through the pandemic online, rural homes across Scotland are finally to get access to superfast broadband.
Works are due to begin to give tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Scotland’s rural areas and islands access to faster internet speeds.
The Reaching 100% programme (R100) has already enabled more than 3,400 premises to access the faster broadband and aims to do the same for many more.
Starting this month, full fibre connections will be built in Oban, Portlethen and Newtonhill.
More than 130 miles of subsea cabling will mean that 15 more islands, including Shetland and Orkney, will have access to this better and more reliable connection.
Economy Secretary Kate Forbes highlighted the fact that having access to fast internet is more important today than it ever has been.
She said: “Accessing fast and reliable broadband has never been so important and for our more rural communities that is becoming increasingly vital.
“The R100 is going significantly beyond our original commitment to provide superfast broadband and will now deliver the UK’s fastest and most reliable broadband for many businesses and homes.”
Made possible by a £384million investment from the Scottish Government, R100 promises to deliver full fibre broadband capable of one gigabit per second download speeds.
This is 30 times faster than was initially proposed.
Chairwoman of Scotland’s Openreach Board Katie Milligan spoke of just how massive a difference this will make to those living in more remote areas.
She said: “The arrival of ultrafast broadband will be a game-changer, placing rural residents and remote islanders firmly in the internet fast lane.
“They will see a huge difference for life and work generally, but future-proof connectivity will also boost fragile rural economies and address sustainability issues like depopulation.”
“We want to support a rural economy”
Banff and District councillor John Cox says the area is ready for more reliable broadband.
He said: “I can only hope that the implementation of the new high speed broadband happens sooner rather than later and it’s not just window dressing saying that it’s going to happen.
“We really want this work to be done as soon as possible.”
He also hopes it will mean more businesses can use the region as a base, and that it will support more rural sectors of the economy.
Mr Cox said: “In Banff there are a lot of bad areas for getting broadband. This new rollout, if it’s successful will be a huge boost to the area.
“Looking to the future in terms of wanting businesses to start here this is very encouraging.
“We want to support a rural economy, whether it’s farmers having to download returns right through to new technology companies dependent on data transfer.
“It has been a problem, so we can only hope this is the start of that change that is desperately required.”
“We’re not going to get a quick fix”
However, Skye councillor Calum Macleod is more sceptical about the success of R100, even with more cable being installed.
Fast broadband has been promised before, and while the situation has improved in recent years, locals have simply accepted that they will never have the same access as those on the mainland.
Community “outrage” led to major works a few years ago, but the situation will never be perfect.
He said: “We did see a lot of BT activity, there was significant investment, a lot of people including myself subsequently benefitted from fibre, but we have a lot of outlying parts of Skye that were never dealt with in a timely fashion.
“The nature of the landscape here plays a big part, with the mountains and a rot of rock in the geography it’s always going to be difficult to reach everywhere and get 100% satisfaction.
“We’re not going to get a quick fix, and I’m very mindful of not wanting to get people’s hopes up.”
He said many people on the island have given up on the superfast broadband, instead relying on 4G networks to keep businesses up and running.
Mr Macleod said: “The way forward for a lot of people if they’re not on that immediately list of prioritised places is the 4G network.
“They’ve now got that as a kind of fall back, 4G is a gap filler for the moment.”