MORAY communities will be the first to benefit from a multi-million pound publicly funded broadband project.
People in Buckie, Hopeman, Lhanbryde and Lossiemouth will be able to access the superfast internet service from early next year.
More than 16,000 homes and businesses in Moray and around Inverness will gain from the project, which is the first stage in the roll out of a £146 million investment.
The programme is expected to result in around 84% of households being able to access fast fibre broadband.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise is leading the project which is being delivered by BT.
The two organisations are also part funding the project, along with the Scottish and UK governments.
Ardersier, Milton of Leys, Fortrose and Culloden will also benefit from the service, which is expected to provide speeds of up to 80Mbps.
The exchange at Elgin, which is scheduled for upgrade next year and the one at Macdhui in Inverness that is currently being improved, will have their fibre footprints extended.
Stuart Robertson, HIE’s director of digital, said: “This is by far the most challenging rural broadband rollout in the UK and we are delighted that our first communities will be accessing services within months.
“Commercial rollout taking place across the UK would have reached no more than one in five premises in the Highlands and Islands.
“So the project’s target of 84% coverage levels for the region will represent a significant step change.”
He added the first homes and businesses to benefit will be those connected to street cabinets within the eight exchange areas, with further work to be carried out to extend reach as the project progresses.
Customers will be able to check availability over the coming weeks.
Moray Council convener Stewart Cree described the rollout of superfast fibre broadband as the “backbone” to providing services and economic growth in the coming years.
He said: “In this day and age we need connectivity, we have to be online.
“I see it – at some stage in the future – that superfast broadband will be a way of life and will be used to monitor people with special needs and the elderly in their own homes.
“I’m not speaking about cameras in their bedrooms or anything like that – but maybe providing folk with interactive TVs.
“There is a generation that just missed the IT revolution and there’s a difficulty there in accessing IT.
“If you provide them with a smart TV there’s the potential for them to be able to speak to a carer or request help, because they are used to that technology.”
He added: “A couple of centuries ago folk would have found it difficult to envisage water being supplied directly to their homes.
“At the moment internet speeds are the equivalent of getting water through two inch pipes.”
BT will lay more than 800km of fibre cable on land and 400km more via 20 subsea crossings as part of the project.
Brendan Dick, Director, BT Scotland, said: “This exciting technology will play a vital part in the area’s future success.
“It is crucial if local businesses are to continue to thrive in a competitive environment.”