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Turning On The internet Tap

The campaign to convert internet access in the Highlands and Islands from a luxury that ties up your telephone line to a utility that doesn't, is to receive another major boost.

The move forms part of the drive towards helping the Highlands and Islands to become the first region in the UK, to achieve more than 95% coverage of broadband, the latest in communications technology.  If achieved, this would be seen as the most significant development in telecommunications in a generation, and could be compared to the introduction of mainstream electricity in the area fifty years ago.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is to invest almost 750,000 in two major projects to promote the benefits of broadband and encourage people to register their interest in receiving it.

Community broadband demonstration projects will be set up in six locations across the Highlands and Islands not covered by mainstream ADSL (see Notes).  These will enable local businesses and households to receive broadband by wireless technology, as opposed to fixed telephone lines, and experience first hand the convenience and benefits it can bring.

The locations are Newtonmore, Cromarty, Westray and Papa Westray in Orkney,Achiltibuie, Acharacle and Tobermory.  The projects will include the installation of a complete wireless broadband network in each of the locations, providing always on internet access for a flat rate monthly fee.  Downloading capacity is up to ten times faster with broadband, and telephone lines remain open for normal voice-link use even when the internet and email are being used.

Visitors to HIE's innovation centre in The Green House, Inverness, can already access wireless broadband for free using their own laptop computers.  This service is also available at the offices of PICT Innovation in Red Shank House, Alness Point Business Park, Ross-shire.

As future developments must be justified by demand, a major marketing campaign will run in conjunction with the demonstrations, to promote broadband in press, television and radio adverts, and encourage people across the Highlands and Islands to register their interest in receiving the technology.  This level of demand, which can be as low as 20 users in some smaller communities, will be used by HIE as the trigger for the roll out of future broadband investment.

Announcing the plans, HIE chairman, Dr Jim Hunter said:  "There is a telecoms revolution happening right here in the Highlands and Islands.  In recent years this area has consistently led the country in the use and development of communications technology.  It is a major factor underpinning social and economic development across the area, and is particularly beneficial to those based in rural areas and those wanting to develop their customer markets overseas.  Broadband services, allowing fast always on connections to the internet and email, are becoming as vital to business, education and communities, as electricity and transport.  So the next step is full availability of broadband across the whole area, though I would stress that people do need to register their interest in order for us to make this happen."

At present only Inverness and Elgin have access to ADSL broadband and businesses using the service have found it can bring huge cost savings and greater productivity.

Iain Gray, Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, welcomed the campaign.  "Take-up of broadband in Scotland is well behind the availability of this technology.  Raising awareness of its existence and what it can do for you and your business therefore plays a very important part in the Executive's broadband strategy for Scotland."

As part of the 24m initiative for broadband announced by the Minister last December, the Executive is developing activities to stimulate demand for as well as supply of broadband services.  This campaign, which Highlands and Islands Enterprise has developed according to the particular circumstances of its business population and support mechanisms, marks the start of these activities.

People interested in receiving broadband will be asked to register their interest on the HIE website at www.hie.co.uk/broadband.