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Remote Scottish communities team up to get superfast broadband

Tuesday, August 4th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

A group of remote Scottish communities have joined forces to develop a community-led superfast broadband project.

Eight island and mainland communities on Scotland’s dramatic west coast have teamed up with Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) to form community-owned GigaPlus Argyll.

Initially led by the Mull and Iona Community Trust, they include some of the hardest-to-reach broadband areas on Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Jura, Lismore, Islay, Luing and the peninsula of Craignish.

After an “open competitive procurement”, GigaPlus Argyll has chosen wireless provider AB Internet Ltd to work with the partnership to deliver speeds up to 50Mbps in areas where people are struggling with connections slower than 2Mbps.

CBS, a Scottish government project delivered by the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, works to get broadband to some of the hardest-to-reach parts of the Highlands and Islands.

It has worked with GigaPlus Argyll through the tender process and approved funding of £988,000 to support the rollout of the community-owned wireless network which will bring access to more than 1,400 homes and businesses.

The project aims to maximise coverage in areas where the £410m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband fibre project is unlikely to reach.

Derek Mackay, the Scottish Government’s minister for transport and islands, said: “This is a pioneering project overcoming significant geographical, engineering and commercial challenges to bring superfast broadband to homes and businesses not only scattered across communities, but in this case, across islands.

“Every day we are building on the growing broadband infrastructure, reaching further into our rural and remote areas.

'Superslow lane'

“Every forward step supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver first-rate connectivity in Scotland by 2020, ensuring we are a world class digital nation.”

The project, managed by GigaPlus Argyll, will be delivered in phases with the south of Mull and Lismore likely to be connected first, followed by Luing and the northern end of Jura.

The rollout will move north-west across Mull, south through Colonsay, the Craignish Peninsula and parts of Jura, to the Loch Gruniart area to the west of Islay, and to Ulva and Iona.

The project is expected to be completed in June 2016.

Moray Finch, chairman of the newly-formed GigaPlus Argyll, said: “Connections in all of these areas are poor, many with speeds less than 2Mbps, and the project will deliver transformational change to island residents and businesses.”

Mr Finch, who is also general manager of the Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT), which is involved in delivering a range of community services and projects, added: “To go from the superslow lane to being able to offer affordable broadband to meet the needs of homeowners as well as uncontended commercial connections for businesses will open up huge opportunities for us.”

An assessment of the economic impact of the project suggests it could bring more than £3.6m, with the creation of eight full-time jobs during the build.

CBS director Mark Tate said: “Finding ways to bring robust high-speed broadband to our most remote and rural communities, where all communications are notoriously difficult, will have a transformational impact on the way people live, work and learn.

“It opens avenues in both social and economic terms.

“This project is truly ground-breaking in the way it brings together the community, the private sector and public sector advice, support and funding to deliver a robust and sustainable next generation solution.

“The service will be delivered over a community-owned infrastructure that will be operated by a commercial internet service provider on a fixed term contract/lease with local labour.”

Darren Round, from Lincoln-based AB Internet, added: “We’re really excited about helping to change the lives of the locals.

“Regardless of how you look at it, from the technical platform to the commercial model, or the community involvement to the headline user speeds, this is a ground-breaking project.”

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