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Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has signed a landmark deal with BT to bring fibre broadband to remote areas of northern Scotland.

The £146 million rollout will see around 84 per cent of Highlands and Islands homes and businesses gain access to super-fast broadband over the coming years.

BT has been charged with creating a fibre network capable of "transforming the area’s digital capabilities for decades to come".

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explained that £126 million of Scottish Government funding will go towards the initiative, which she said represents "one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in Scotland's history".

"It will connect communities across some of the most challenging landscapes in Europe and provides a platform for future economic development and regeneration," she stated.

"Next-generation broadband enables businesses to compete on the international stage. It has the potential to transform the way in which we educate our children, provide health and social care, and deliver our public services."

Ms Sturgeon claimed the geography and disparate population of the Highlands and Islands present "significant technological and cost challenges" for the commercial rollout of broadband.

"Estimates have indicated that without public sector support fewer than one in four properties would have fibre broadband via commercial rollout," she noted.

HIE's Chief Executive Alex Paterson described the fibre broadband project as "a game changer" for the Highlands and Islands region.

"It will roll out modern, fast and reliable broadband to areas that could not have hoped to have it introduced commercially," he stated.

“Digital connectivity is essential to today’s social and business activity. High-speed fibre broadband in the Highlands and Islands will make a real contribution to our communities’ prosperity, particularly for people in remote and rural areas."

BT is investing £19.4 million in the project, on top of its investment in its wider commercial rollout for the region.

Bill Murphy, Managing Director of Next-Generation Broadband at the firm, noted that there are "incredible obstacles" to overcome, not least building a fibre network across "some of the most rugged terrain in the UK".

"And we have huge distances to cover as we lay our cables over the hills and glens and under the sea," he explained.

"The unprecedented scale of this project is such that it can only be done in partnership, and all of us in BT are looking forward to continuing the great working relationship that we’ve built up over many years with Highlands and Islands Enterprise."

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