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Remote Scottish communities will be without superfast broadband 'forever'

Wednesday, April 1st 2015 by Ellen Branagh

People who live in remote parts of the UK will be in the so-called last few per cent that are not connected to superfast broadband “forever”, a Scottish medic has warned.

James Pirie, who lives and works in the Scottish Highlands, said he will not give up trying to get better broadband, but has to accept that he may never get ‘superfast’ speeds.

The government has committed to deliver superfast broadband – described as 24Mbps or above – to 95% of the country by the end of 2017.

Officials have said that they will look at alternative, innovative methods such as satellite broadband to reach people in outlying areas.

Mr Pirie, who lives in Clachtoll – 100 miles north of Inverness – told Cable.co.uk that people in his position may have to accept that they will never get the same broadband speeds as those in more densely-populated areas.

But he said the onus remains on operators and providers to give them the best connectivity possible.

Mr Pirie, who gets a maximum of 8Mbps download speed, said he and his fellow residents “fall about laughing” when they hear about superfast broadband.

And while mobile operators herald the arrival of 4G, they are still on basic 2G, he said.

“Really it’s because there’s no people. You can see their [the operators] point, it’s not worth investing money in technology here.

“I consider my broadband to be quite good for the area but that’s because I made a noise about it.”

Mr Pirie said while he gets a maximum of 8Mbps, in Coigach 15 miles away, they get 2Mbps, while in another town of Drumbeg they get just 0.25Mbps.

He said he makes all his calls via the internet, but gets cut off if his wife tries to play a video at the same time.

“I happen to know there’s a fibre cable coming up the west coast right now. It’s going to come to within 11 miles of Lochinver, and then it’s going to turn right. It’s completely bypassing us.

Last few per cent

“If they are coming that close and bypassing us, it’s never going to come to us. We will be in the last few per cent forever.

“I think we just have to accept that this is what we are going to get, but not give in. There’s no point putting up with 1Mbps when I know we can get 8Mbps.”

And as well as poor broadband, Mr Pirie said the area also suffers from poor mobile coverage.

“The 4G thing, nobody has even mentioned 3G up here, we’re still on 2G. They have completely forgotten about this end of the country.”

He said he has a contract with Vodafone and has previously been told he can end it with no penalty because it is such a poor service.

Mr Pirie said the Scottish Ambulance Service also relies on Vodafone’s network for its data requirements, sending him information about an emergency he is due to attend.

But he said the coverage is so poor that he and other medics have to call the control centre to get the details – often only receiving the data once they have already attended the emergency.

“The mobile providers really should be ashamed. These are the sort of places where your mobile phone really could be a lifesaver.

“We can drive 40 miles before you reach a reasonable-sized community – if you’ve got no mobile coverage it’s quite worrying.”

He said it is unlikely the situation will change because of how remote his area is, but operators could still do more to improve things as much as possible.

“We get no concessions for not having signal or broadband, and we’re are all paying money towards it. It’s not as if your mobile phone is free or your broadband is free.”

Broadband 'vital' for remote areas

Julia Campbell, local development officer for Coigach Community Development Company, echoed Mr Pirie’s concerns.

She said although they have basic broadband, they are unlikely to be part of the superfast rollout.

“We have seen the maps, we know where the high speed broadband is going, and it’s not here.”

Ms Campbell said while a community broadband network is an option, it would be difficult for such a small community to set up.

She said fast broadband is “vital” for areas like theirs, arguably more so than for less isolated areas.

“If we’re going to get people coming or staying here, broadband is a real maker or breaker,” she added.

“I work from home a lot. My house is about three miles from the exchange and I get about 0.5Mbps.

“I’ve been told by BT that I supposedly get ‘up to 20Mbps,’ but 0.5Mbps is a long way from 20Mbps.”

Ms Campbell said the future of small communities like hers was starting to depend on broadband.

“We’re always trying to encourage investment in this area and we meet people who would quite like to come and live here.

“More and more people work from home, and can set up little businesses and work remotely. There are international companies employing people dotted all over the place, but that needs infrastructure.

“There was even talk about delivering some health services remotely but that all relies on infrastructure."

Ms Campbell admitted that while local residents may never have a Marks & Spencer, multiplex cinema or motorway on their doorstep, broadband is a service that could be delivered.

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