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Highland Businesses Urged To Seize The Broadband Challenge

26th March 2002

The Highlands and Islands are leading Scotland forward with state-of-the-art demonstrations of cutting edge telecommunications.

Wendy Alexander, Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, officially launched today (Tuesday March 19, 2002) Scotland's share of the DTI Fund for the Innovative Uses of Broadband. The Minister also launched the Highlands and Islands broadband programme 'Broadband for Business' and opened Scotland's first demonstration and development centre for rural broadband technology.

Sandy Cumming, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) welcomed the announcement. He said: "The Highlands and Islands of Scotland are taking the lead in the first major trial of rural broadband technology for business in order to prove to the telecommunications industry that demand is there and the service is needed.

"Broadband lays the foundations for the e-business development, improves productivity and market expansion and will allow Scotland to compete more effectively on a world stage."

Wendy Alexander launched Broadband for Business at the Green House business incubation centre in Inverness where the first of 13 Highlands and Islands development and demonstration centres have been set up.

Broadband for Business is being driven forward by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Sandy Cumming said: "HIE is giving local companies the chance to explore and test out what broadband could mean for their business. We are there to explain and advise on the benefits as well as to further stimulate demand."

Julian Flux, director of PS Computer Systems Ltd in Fort William said: "We presently have a dedicated leased line, but with our satellite broadband system its like chalk and cheese. The download speeds are 10 times faster. It opens up a new wave of possibilities for our business. Software downloads and updates can be performed without affecting our users and in a fraction of the time. Training is vital to our business as Microsoft Certified Partners and broadband has made essential training materials and web broadcasts available to us at any time, giving us the power to train and enhance our skills as never before."

The Inverness demonstration centre will be run by a full-time broadband applications adviser who will work with the team of ten highly skilled e-business advisers, based in each local enterprise company in the HIE network.
All the centres will be open to any business allowing them full access to broadband technologies and demonstration facilities. A demonstration kit will be available in each area with advisers providing in-depth advice to organisations on all aspects of implementing e-business systems. Businesses will also be able to link up to the centre and tap into a virtual demonstration of broadband applications.

Allied to the centres, HIE will be running a series of 16 workshops on the potential applications of broadband technology. These will begin across the Highlands and Islands this summer and an on-line news and reference source, demonstrating local case studies, will also be set up. Besides the advisory service, financial help is currently available. Local companies can apply to their local enterprise company for discretionary funding for equipment and installation costs of accessing broadband services via satellite, through BT Openworld and other operators.

Brendan Dick, BT Scotland general manager said: "Our recent ADSL price cuts and our new Scotland-wide satellite solution are driving up demand but we cannot create a broadband Scotland on our own. A partnership approach which includes government, the enterprise companies and the wider industry is essential to stimulate uptake and ensure that all necessary investment is in place.

"BT Scotland is doing more than any other operator to deliver a broadband Scotland and is currently investing 270 million a year expanding and improving the capability of its networks to deliver a range of broadband technologies."

Wendy Alexander also announced a series of broadband pilot projects testing a range of technologies. These include broadband delivery via wireless, power cables and satellite.

Keith MacLean, general manager of SSE Telecom, the telecoms division of Scottish and Southern Energy, said: "It is unlikely that a single technology solution will deliver broadband to all parts of the Highlands and Islands. We believe that it is essential to test different technologies and business models through pilot projects if the Scottish Executive's objective of affordable broadband is to be realised."

Laurence Young, chairman of the Freedom of the Glen Family of Hotels said: "HIE has recently approved funding to assist a major upgrade to the computer network and internal communications system between the three hotels of our group. This will boost efficiency and productivity, plus make our jobs more enjoyable and satisfying. Most importantly, it will give a host of practical ways to serve our guests better. Being able to share files, reservations details and guest information across the hotels will open many new opportunities for us - the future with broadband is really exciting."
The programmes are being partly funded through the Department of Trade and Industry Broadband Fund which is providing 4.4 million to Scotland to pilot broadband services nationally. 1.325 million is coming to the Highlands and Islands.

Head of knowledge economy at HIE, Calum Davidson said: "The Highlands and Islands are at the forefront of piloting rural broadband solutions for our businesses. However, it is vital that local companies take the opportunity to explore the potential of broadband and come along and try out the demonstration centres.

"I am confident that HIE and the business community working together can generate sufficient demand to roll-out broadband services throughout the Highlands and Islands."