Parts of northern Scotland will enjoy faster broadband speeds after a telecoms company announced an £8m cash boost.
BT said seven towns will benefit from its "ambitious" plan to run a new fibre transmission link from Inverness through the north of Scotland to Orkney and Shetland.
Almost 1000km of fibre cable, including 400km laid beneath the sea, will be used. The company expects the link to be operational by early 2013.
Brendan Dick, director of BT Scotland, revealed the proposal at a public meeting in Shetland. He said: "This significant investment demonstrates BT's ongoing commitment to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland."
The project is part of the firm's next-generation broadband service. The investment is expected to deliver download speeds of "up to 20 megabits per second", more than double the fastest speed previously available from the company.
The new connection will bring faster broadband to Kirkwall in Orkney and Lerwick in Shetland, as well as Dingwall, Tain, Thurso, Alness and Invergordon.
The link will carry all broadband traffic between the Northern Isles and the mainland. The existing microwave radio links that serve Orkney and Shetland will be kept as a back-up. Once completed, it will be "one of the longest optical transmissions systems in the UK", according to BT.
Special design work has been carried out to cater for the large distances involved. Testing on the network has taken place at BT's laboratories in Suffolk. A service for reporting faults has also been set up by the firm in Orkney and Shetland.
Mr Dick said: "No communications company is doing more than BT to roll out next generation broadband services across the Highlands and Islands. And by investing £8m in this fibre spine for Orkney, Shetland and the north of Scotland, BT is laying the building blocks for any future deployment of fibre broadband.
"Faster broadband is touching the lives of everyone from small businesses and homeworkers, to internet shoppers, students, families and online gaming enthusiasts, and transforming the way we do things for the better. BT is committed to making faster technologies available to as many homes and businesses as possible."