Superfast welcome to next generation broadband in the Shetland Islands

Superfast knitting met superfast broadband today (Wednesday 15 October) in the Shetland Islands as the community marked the arrival of next generation fibre broadband to Scotland's first island community.

Superfast knitting met superfast broadband today (Wednesday 15 October) in the Shetland Islands as the community marked the arrival of next generation fibre broadband to Scotland's first island community.

Shetland’s Hazel Tindall who holds the title of world’s fastest knitter joined Highlands and Islands Enterprise, BT and community representatives to unveil what is currently Scotland's most northerly fibre broadband cabinet at Böd of Gremista in Lerwick.

Draped in da muckle gravit* for the occasion, the cabinet is one of 17 now open to orders for fibre based broadband to over 4,000 businesses and homes in Lerwick, Quarff and Sumburgh. They form part of a £146m publicly funded fibre network which is rolling out across the Highlands and Islands as part of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

The partnership programme is being delivered in the region by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and private sector partners BT. Funding partners include the Scottish Government, HIE, Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) and BT.

Stuart Robertson, Director of Digital Highlands and Islands, said: "This first phase of roll-out on the Shetland Islands is opening up fibre based services to one in three homes and businesses in one swoop. It’s a great start.

“The Shetland Islands have links across the world in leading sectors including energy, creative industries, tourism and food and drink. Access to better broadband can open up opportunities for business growth across all these sectors, and at home makes for more flexibility in every day life.

“Having now pushed through almost all of Shetland’s existing cabinets our next steps are to build the new networks and cabinets needed to reach customers currently connected directly to their exchanges.”

Bill Murphy, BT managing director, Next Generation Broadband, said: “This is truly an historic day for Shetland and the Highlands and Islands. High-speed broadband will bring social and economic benefits not just to the Shetland Islands, but to the wider Highlands and Islands as well.

“Fast, fibre broadband is key to the economies of our island communities and will become, in its own way, just as vital as the sea and air links that islanders rely on for transport and trade.”

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said: “The digital landscape of Scotland is undergoing a tremendous transformation and I’m delighted that our rollout of superfast broadband has now reached the Shetland Islands. More than 4000 local homes and businesses can now access a fast and reliable service, providing a welcome boost to the local economy.”

One business in Lerwick now able to access the services is The Spiders Web, which sells traditional hand knitted garments. Owner Barbara Mitchell, commented: “Prior to the internet we had to rely on travelling to trade shows to make sales. But, a number of years ago about ten local firms got together to set up a mail order catalogue, which then led to one of the very first websites on Shetland. The introduction of faster broadband is definitely a benefit to local people.”

The next phase of work in Shetland will start in the second half of 2015. It will connect more people in Sumburgh, Cunningsburgh and Lerwick and will also take services out to a number of new communities including Voe, Symbister, Brae, Scalloway, and Sandwick.

In addition, the Shetland geography provides the perfect opportunity to look at how cutting edge technologies might help further extend coverage, particularly to smaller island communities.

Lifelong knitter Hazel Tindall, commented: “Without being online I simply couldn’t run my business. It allows me to respond to worldwide interest in traditional knitting and to provide downloadable patterns and knitting advice. The introduction of fibre-based broadband is great news for Shetland.”

*Da Muckle Gravit, at around 35m, is Shetland’s longest scarf. With the first stitches being cast on by Hazel Tindall in 2005, many local people and visitors have played a part in knitting it, each creating their own unique section. It makes regular appearances at local schools and events in Shetland to promote the art of knitting.

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