Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Wednesday, 7 October 2009 12:23 UK

New concerns over broadband cover

Mobile phone on computer keyboard
The study found the Highlands would be slow to benefit from improvements

The Highlands and Islands could lag behind the rest of the UK in the roll-out of next generation broadband access (NGA), a report has warned.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) commissioned a study of telecoms connectivity in the region.

The research suggests 95% of the area has a basic level of broadband.

However, the report said no homes in the Highlands and Islands will be included in the initial introduction of faster services.

NGA involves replacing some or all of the existing copper phone lines with fibre-optic cables to allow for higher broadband speeds.

Telecoms connectivity is a cornerstone of the digital economy
Alex Paterson

The report for HIE said the technology was already available on almost all of Virgin Media's network, but the company had no plans to extend this to the Highlands and Islands.

Analysts said BT was in the early stages of connecting 10 million homes to fibre-optic cables, however, none of the first 1.5 million households to be covered is in the region.

The cost of deploying the cables in HIE's area - which includes Argyll, the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland - has been estimated at between £81m and £480m.

Researchers said in terms of basic broadband coverage, 95% of the Highlands and Islands was covered - putting the region just ahead of Japan.

However, fast mobile phone broadband services were considered lacking with limited connection to the 3G network.

Alex Paterson, HIE director of regional competitiveness, said good internet services were vital to the region's businesses.

He said: "Telecoms connectivity is a cornerstone of the digital economy and provides opportunities to accelerate innovation and raise productivity.

"HIE is committed to ensuring that the region attracts funding and consequently infrastructure for next generation access broadband coverage.

"It will be key to our ambition to be one of the most competitive regions in the world."

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