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Nicola Sturgeon launches £9m Scottish rural broadband grant scheme

Tuesday, August 25th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A new £9m grant scheme to fund broadband projects in rural Scotland has been launched.

The new Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), which will fund broadband for rural communities across Scotland, is now open for applications.

The £9m fund will be used to support community-led projects like GigaPlus Argyll, where groups of hard-to-reach communities team up to get superfast broadband services from commercial providers.

The new grant scheme was launched by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon during a recent visit to Oban’s Phoenix Cinema, which has received SRDP support and where a new wi-fi tourist information kiosk has been installed.

She said the Scottish government was support the rollout of superfast broadband in Scotland, which is more than halfway towards meeting its target under the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme.

“The social and economic benefits are clear, as demonstrated by this innovative and accessible wi-fi tourist information kiosk in Oban’s Phoenix Cinema,” she said.

“This SRDP funding will help communities in the hardest to reach broadband areas follow in the footsteps of the pioneering GigaPlus Argyll project, and work together to bring superfast services to homes and businesses.”

Ms Sturgeon said the scheme takes the available funding for community broadband projects up to £16.5m in Scotland – on top of the £410m DSSB investment.

It is another step towards achieving the Scottish government’s aim of “world class connectivity by 2020”, she said.

The DSSB programme aims to provide fibre broadband infrastructure to parts of Scotland not included in commercial providers’ plans.

The SRDP 2014-2020 broadband grant scheme will be delivered by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), a £7.5m Scottish government project led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which supports the hardest-to-reach broadband areas unlikely to benefit from DSSB.

'Huge opportunities'

CBS director Zoe Laird said: “Access to high speed, robust, broadband has a transformational effect on how people live, work and learn, particularly in our most remote and rural communities.

“Our role at CBS is to help communities find innovative solutions and GigaPlus Argyll is a great example of an innovative business model that will bring transformational and robust broadband to the most remote of premises across eight island and mainland communities.

“The SRDP scheme will enable us to help even more rural communities across Scotland get digitally connected.

Cable.co.uk has previously reported how eight island and mainland communities on the west coast of Scotland joined forces with CBS for the community-owned GigaPlus Argyll project.

Chairman Moray Finch said: “Broadband connectivity in the GigaPlus Argyll area is poor, with speeds less than 2Mbps, and our communities on the islands and Craignish peninsula are outside the reach of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband fibre scheme.

“By getting together with CBS, we have been successful in securing tenders and appointing a company specialising in the installation and operation of wireless superfast broadband which will deliver affordable services to 1,400 homes and businesses, opening up huge opportunities for us.”

Calum Ross, vice chair of Argyll & the Isles Tourism Cooperative (AITC), added: “AITC is acutely aware of the importance of superfast broadband and 3G/4G coverage across our rural area to help grow tourism.

“Innovative solutions are vital in our remote rural areas, and our kiosks are a prime example of this as is GigaPlus Argyll.”

AITC is also keen to ensure that businesses can make the most of superfast broadband when it is available, he said.

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