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Highland schools gain from gigabit investment

By Calum MacLeod

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The gigabit rollout has connected 37 rural and hard-to-reach Highland schools.
The gigabit rollout has connected 37 rural and hard-to-reach Highland schools.

Schools in the Highlands are among the main beneficiaries from a UK-wide scheme to connect rural and hard-to-reach schools with next-generation, gigabit speed broadband.

Figures released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport show that out of 1084 schools across the UK connected to top-of-the-class full fibre broadband, 37 are in the Highland Council area.

The investment in next-generation internet connection will also see 7000 hospitals, libraries, police stations and other public buildings upgraded by the end of March 2022.

The upgrades form part of a more than £210 million investment by the government to bring next-generation connections to places where internet speeds are slower, such as in rural areas.

The new connections will allow schools to make use of the most cutting-edge learning tech - such as video conferencing platforms to host joint classes and assemblies with schools anywhere in the world and online tools that bring lessons to life such as films and learning games. It will also support teachers to spend more time planning and delivering lessons and less time staring at loading screens.

The work is part of the UK government’s national mission to level up internet access across the UK by investing in blisteringly fast gigabit broadband and busting barriers to speed up commercial roll out.

Most schools in the UK are in urban or suburban areas which already have access to fast full fibre broadband, but this investment focused on schools in around 30 per cent of the UK that currently cannot access speeds of 100 megabits per second and were not in line to receive an upgrade commercially from broadband companies.

Many of them are in rural or hard-to-reach areas, so the government has stepped in to fund their connections and make sure they don’t miss out on next-generation speeds.

Highland will see the greatest number of school upgrades in Scotland, and one of the highest in the UK after Norfolk (115), Wolverhampton (81) and North Yorkshire (45).

The UK government has now launched a call for evidence to understand the future wireless connectivity needs of the UK and how it can support the rollout of 5G and other advanced wireless networks.

This includes looking at technologies such as satellite, the Internet of Things - which will underpin innovations like driverless cars - and at the development of 6G networks, the next generation of mobile.

The call for evidence will inform the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy which was announced in June.

UK digital minister Nadine Dorries said: “We are levelling up pupils’ and teachers' access to the fastest future-proofed broadband, giving hundreds of schools better access to important learning opportunities, no matter where they live.

“The Government is on a mission to connect the country to next-generation networks. Today's announcements will help harness the huge potential of 5G and future wireless networks such as 6G to supercharge our plan to build back better.

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