Superfast fibre optic broadband has arrived on the Isles of Scilly making them “some of the best connected islands in the world”.
The multi million pound project, one of the most ambitious ever undertaken in the UK to bring superfast broadband to a remote community, has just been completed with the first customers already using the high-speed technology. Isles of Scilly households and businesses now have access to broadband speeds up to 80Mbps, which is ten times faster than the previous maximum of up to 8Mbps.
A 939- kilometre cable between Porthcurno, Cornwall, and Santander, Spain, which had remained unused on the seabed of the Atlantic Ocean since 2006, was diverted to the Isles of Scilly during a month-long operation involving the 12,184 tonne cable ship Resolute.
The laying of the cable from the mainland was just part of the ambitious project. Engineers from BT’s local network business, Openreach, have also been busy installing a new network on the isles and building new links between the five inhabited islands. New fibre optic cables have been laid from the main island, St Mary’s, to Tresco and between Tresco and Bryher, whilst new microwave radio links have been used to provide the same fibre broadband services for St Agnes and St Martin’s.
The pioneering project is part of the £132 million Superfast Cornwall initiative between the European Regional Development Fund, BT and Cornwall Council, which plans to make fibre broadband available to 95 per cent of homes and businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by the end of 2014.
Lord Ahmad, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Communities and Local Government, and senior officials from Superfast Cornwall and BT, including the company’s chief executive Gavin Patterson, were at the Superfast Cornwall offices, near Redruth, today (Friday November 21) to stage a conference call link-up with representatives from the Isles of Scilly marking the successful completion of the Isles of Scilly scheme. They had been unable to land on the isles due to bad weather.
Until now, the 2,200 residents of Scilly – located 28 miles off the South West tip of Cornwall – have relied upon a phone and broadband service provided by a radio link between Lands End and the islands. People on all five of Scilly’s inhabited islands, famous for their remote Atlantic location and as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), now have access to the high-speed technology.
Lord Ahmad, Parliamentary Under Secretary for Communities and Local Government, said: “Bringing fibre optic broadband to the Isles of Scilly is another demonstration that Britain means business. No matter where in Britain you live and work, this government is committed to empowering you with the tools you need to connect and communicate in the 21st century.
“Through accessing the European Regional Development Fund and working in partnership with BT and Cornwall Council we have made an investment in the future of the Isles of Scilly which will ensure that this community will continue to thrive for generations to come.”
Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT, said: “The arrival of fibre broadband on the Isles of Scilly, England’s most remote community, is a landmark event. It is a wonderful example of what is being achieved by BT in partnership with the public sector to bring this exciting technology to locations across the UK, which would have been considered beyond reach just a few years ago. Already, more than 21 million UK homes and businesses have access to fibre broadband – which puts the UK ahead of any other major European economy – and now we are pushing the boundaries to go even further.
“The recent arrival of fibre broadband in remote UK locations as far afield as the Isles of Scilly and Shetland shows our commitment to overcoming the challenges and making fibre broadband as widely available as possible – and that we are doing so in an environmentally friendly way in a spirit of close cooperation with local communities.”
Nigel Ashcroft MBE, Superfast Cornwall programme director for Cornwall Development Company, the economic development company of Cornwall Council, said: “There has been huge interest in this project by the people of the Isles of Scilly. It represents one of the largest single investments ever undertaken on these remote isles and makes them some of the best connected islands in the world. This exciting technology will reinforce the isles’ reputation as a hotspot for homeworking.
“Already, the first customers are using the service on Scilly and many more are keen to be connected. We have created a lasting legacy, which will provide the people of Scilly with strong, first class communications with mainland UK and further afield, whatever the weather or conditions, for many years ahead.”
Councillor Amanda Martin, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly, said: “The arrival of superfast fibre optic broadband demonstrates that good partnership working can overcome significant challenges. Superfast broadband has the potential to revitalise the islands’ economy and to enhance the quality of living and working arrangements in the Isles of Scilly. I am proud that we are now one of the best connected archipelagos in the world. This would not have been possible without the significant investment by BT and the European Convergence programme.”
Among the first Isles of Scilly companies to benefit from high-speed fibre broadband is Scented Narcissi, a flower farm business on St Mary’s, which provides narcissi from nine family farms on the isles to customers across the UK and Europe.
Andrew May, the company’s managing director, said: “The arrival of fibre broadband on Scilly is fantastic news for our flower farm business. It will allow us to have better communications with our customers, as well as save the business time and money by allowing us to streamline some of our business operations.
“We operate in an incredibly tough marketplace and high speed connectivity will allow us to improve the service to our customers, increasing our competitiveness. We will be able to grow the business, reaching out to new customers both nationally and internationally. This is likely to lead to extra jobs at Scented Narcissi over time and a bright outlook as we embrace the digital future.”
Another local business already benefiting is the Star Castle Hotel, a sixteenth century fortress on St Mary’s, which is now a 38-bedroom hotel. The Star Castle is using fibre broadband to offer high-speed wi-fi and internet connections for guests and to improve its operations.
Zoe Parry, assistant manager, said: “The high speed fibre connection is having a big impact on our productivity. For example, it is so much faster to send large files by email. Previously, it took nearly ten minutes to send one photo to our designer on the mainland. This morning, I sent two large image files in less than 30 seconds. It is also so much faster to carry out everyday operations online, such as updating our website.”