The north of Scotland is to benefit from the “most complex and challenging” broadband installation project in the UK.
It will include around 800km of high-speed fibre broadband cables underground and 400km of subsea cables, with 19 crossings to remote areas of the Highlands and Islands.
When complete, it is said 84% of the region will be connected to the network by 2016.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is leading the £146 million publicly-funded project with BT.
HIE chief executive Alex Paterson said the ambitious works will bring numerous benefits to the north of Scotland.
“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,” he said.
“It offers opportunities for new ways of working, innovation, enhanced public services, access to international markets and provides the infrastructure needed by business sectors like energy, life sciences, tourism and business services.”
BT said the project is the most challenging it has ever undertaken in the UK.
Bill Murphy, BT Group managing director of next-generation broadband, said: “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.
“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.
“BT’s network will be open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis, creating a competitive market where people aren’t stuck with one broadband provider and can choose the package and price that suits them.”
Most of the money will come through public funding, with the Scottish Government providing £126.4 million which includes up to £12 million from HIE’s budget, as well as investment from Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) which is responsible for increasing access to broadband on behalf of the UK coalition Government.
Welcoming the project, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it will help develop the Highlands and Islands economy.
“It will connect communities across some of the most challenging landscapes in Europe and provides a platform for future economic development and regeneration,” she said.
“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.”
Communications Minister Ed Vaizey, from the UK Government, said: “We do more business online than any other European country and this will be a tremendous boost for the local Highland and Islands economies.”
The rest of the money, £19.4 million, will be provided by BT.
The new network is expected to provide broadband at up to 80 megabytes per second. Throughout the project, BT and HIE said they will review the use of new technology with money from a £2.5 million Innovation Fund.