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Low-cost broadband scheme brings fast web to remote areas

Homes and businesses in remote parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands are benefiting from superfast broadband access, thanks to a community initiative.

A high-speed internet network has been developed by communities with help from experts, to serve the islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna and some remote areas on the Scottish mainland. The connection from the system is faster than in most cities.

The technology makes use of a low-cost network of relays that connect to the internet at the Gaelic College on Skye, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which is a constituent of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The network, which brings a wealth of benefits for those in remote areas, was developed from a research collaboration between the University of the Highlands and Islands and the University of Edinburgh, known as Tegola. A local company, HebNet, has helped extend the provision to other communities in the north-west Highlands.

Events to mark the project milestone are being held on Skye today (Friday).This will bring together rural communities to promote learning based on examples from industry, local government, community organisations and others who have successfully used community broadband initiatives.

Much of rural Scotland is without high quality web access. Many rural communities are too far from a telephone exchange for high-speed broadband to work, and satellite broadband has been shown to be slow and expensive. Researchers say their method could provide a solution for many remote areas, and several other communities are showing interest. The scheme is backed by the Scottish Government’s Community Broadband Scotland initiative.

Professor Peter Buneman of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, who initiated the project, said: “I am delighted to see our scheme bringing the benefits of the web to these remote communities and hope that, with further support, our system can be implemented in more places like these.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, said: “Our Community Broadband Scotland initiative was set up to support communities to develop solutions that will improve internet connections in some of our remotest rural areas.

“Broadband should not be considered a luxury in places like the Highlands and Islands; it is essential to enhance the quality of life of communities and to stimulate the growth of the local economy. Increasing access to broadband is a key priority area for the Scottish Government, and we are currently progressing plans to develop a world class digital infrastructure by 2020.” 

Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, commented: “I very much welcome the extension of the Tegola project which epitomises the kind of innovative and collaborative approach that Sabhal Mòr Ostaig has taken over the years to economic, educational, cultural and social development. We are pleased to host this project which makes high-speed broadband available to communities in sparsely populated areas and contributes to their economic viability and social vitality.”

Jem Taylor, head of strategy and development for the University of the Highlands and Islands IT team, said: “We embarked on this project as it aligns with the university’s mission of developing sustainable businesses and communities and we hope that, in due course, it will help us to provide high speed broadband to some of our most isolated learning centres.

“Commercial internet providers have so far failed to find an economical way to reach these remote, sparsely populated and often mountainous regions, meaning many are being left behind in the digital revolution. Now we’ve established the model works, it has the potential to be used in other rural communities.”

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