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Loch Ness tourists driven away by 'non-existent' broadband

Wednesday, March 25th 2015 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

The “slow or non-existent” broadband around Loch Ness is driving both locals and tourists away from the area.

Andy Holt, who runs a business from his home in Inverfarigaig on the south-east shore of the loch, said the best broadband speed most people in the area can get is about 0.5Mbps.

“It’s diabolical,” he said. “For the last year or two we’ve had frequent questions about broadband in the towns and villages, but it’s slow or non-existent.

“Sometimes there is no broadband at all.”

Mr Holt pays £50 a month for satellite broadband but still only gets around 3Mbps and says the service is unreliable.

“At the moment we can’t watch iPlayer or anything, we can’t use Skype, we can’t watch video online – it’s awful.

Mr Holt said he knows people who have moved away from the area because the broadband is so slow, including one who felt his children were being disadvantaged because they couldn’t get online.

But residents aren’t the only ones to feel the effects of the area’s connectivity problems.

'Really vile feedback'

“Tourists get fed up, there are lots of complaints that they can’t get a mobile signal,” said Mr Holt, who also runs a holiday apartment at St Augustus on the southern end of the loch.

“We’ve had some really vile feedback. They need it and people assume they’ll get it.

“People want to move away. Tourists used to ask but now they just assume and then are disappointed when there is no broadband. And they don’t come back.”

Inspired by similar projects in other parts of Scotland, plans have been made for a community broadband project but residents have struggled to find funding for it.

“We had a plan to bounce a wireless signal back and forth across the loch. It would give us up to 20Mbps and there is even a wireless systems company in Inverness happy to provide it.

“It would cost £120,000. It’s not big money and would cover a huge area.

“There are no visual obstructions across the loch so it would be very cost effective but we are overlooked all the time.”

Residents have spoken to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the organisation delivering superfast broadband to some of Scotland’s hardest-to-reach areas.

They have also spoken to MP Danny Alexander (Lib Dem – Inverness), who recently secured £2m for the Loch Ness area.

“We only want a small amount to go towards broadband but it will all be used for marketing to bring tourists in,” said Mr Holt.

“HIE keep saying it's coming. It’s been eight years and it’s not any closer, nothing’s happening here. Even if they run cable to the local exchange our village is outside of the maximum limit.”

'No services around the loch'

Margaret Davidson, Highland Councillor for Aird and Loch Ness, said: “It is pretty grim that folks as little as four miles from Inverness can get no broadband signal at all and there are pockets of no services around the loch.

“Add to that the fact that many have pretty poor broadband and are trying to live and run businesses in the most iconic place in the Highlands and it is not good.

“The new proposed upgrades are great for those who get it, but we have had no firm promises at all and I and others are fearful we will be no further forward in two years’ time.

“I am working with others to look at a problem-solving approach area by area, but it is like pushing a boulder uphill.

“Other European countries have delivered modern services to their rural communities, why not Britain?”

A spokesperson for HIE said there are plans to improve broadband access for areas around Loch Ness.

“Fibre-based broadband is rolling-out for many communities round the loch through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband project.”

The spokesperson said £146m is being invested in building a core fibre network as well as local access networks to reach those not covered by commercial rollouts.

“This initial three-year project runs until 2016 and we aim to reach 84% of premises across the whole Highlands and Islands region."

She said Inverfarigaig falls within the Gorthleck exchange area and that "there is some coverage expected within the area – but it won’t reach everyone".

"It is quite a large patch geographically, and there are a fair number of places with small numbers of homes some distance from each other – and these can be the hardest to reach.

"The project is designed to build an infrastructure which reaches as many people as possible within the budget and technology we have available," adding that BT will start work in the area later in the year.

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