Rural communities in Scotland are set to benefit from a new £5 million fund to help bring next-generation broadband to some of the country's remotest areas.
The fund was announced by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), a joint initiative between the Scottish Government, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise, COSLA and Local Government.
Communities can apply for seed funding under the initiative to enable them to obtain greater access to the internet. The first round of funding will focus on supporting a small number of community projects in the 10-15% of the country least likely to benefit from the Step Change 2015 programme.
The purpose is to support projects that will provide good learning, will act as case studies and will provide technical solutions and business models that could be replicated across Scotland through further rounds of the fund, said CBS.
CBS is also launching a new telephone helpline and website delivering advice and practical support. A network of staff on the ground will also deliver hands-on advice and support locally to communities.
"Broadband should not be considered a luxury in rural areas; it is essential to enhance the quality of life and stimulate the growth of the local economy," said Holyrood's Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil.
"This investment of £5 million, over the next three years, will see targeted support being provided to community projects to enable them to deliver broadband solutions for their areas."
The Scottish government has previously announced its intention to develop a world class digital infrastructure by 2020. Alex Paterson, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, added that improved broadband would being "significant economic and social benefits".