Fastest broadband pledge for remote Scottish communities
One of Britain’s most under-populated regions is promised access to the fastest broadband services following a unique partnership.
About 140 homes from Achnasheen to Aultguish in Ross-shire – around 40 miles north-west of Inverness – will be upgraded to ultrafast technology by the end of this year.
Two thirds of the properties will receive future proof Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) from the £428 million Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, led by Highland and Islands Enterprise, with the rest getting a full-fibre upgrade through a Community Fibre Partnership with Openreach.
Homes in tiny settlements and hamlets such as Achanalt, Lochluichart, Corriemoillie, Little Garve, Gorstan, Grudie and Inchbae will see their broadband reliability, capacity and speeds soar from around 0.5Mbps to the UK’s fastest residential speeds of up to 1Gbps* – 2,000 times faster than their current top speed.
The new network started to go live this week, with around 90% of premises in Achnasheen now able to order a service.
The project follows a year of research by the voluntary group Garve and District Broadband (GDB), which looked at all the options for delivering broadband in the location, and concluded that a resilient, full-fibre network was the only way to provide, and future-proof, internet links for the small communities stretching across the Highland glens.
The technology provides additional capacity for data-hungry services and applications and adds more reliability and resilience to the network, meaning things are less likely to go wrong in the event of unforeseen circumstances or extreme weather conditions.
Substantial windfarm community benefit funds will be invested by the Lochluichart Community Trust alongside funding from Openreach, Scotland’s digital network business; the Digital Scotland project; and the UK Government’s Better Broadband scheme. Local residents are digging in the last few metres of cable to more than 35% of the properties.
Community spokesman Steve Jones said: “It’s a tremendously exciting time. Like many residents I’ve only been getting very slow speeds capped at 0.5Mbps, making even the most basic of online activities difficult and frustrating, so looking forward to ultrafast speeds is fantastic.
“Fast, reliable broadband will bring huge potential to regenerate our scattered communities. It’s a prerequisite for attracting families and businesses to the area, where the population has fallen in recent years. People now expect good internet as a basic. In essence, it will help us to build a closer and more integrated community.
“As the online world continues to grow, the Garve and District community won’t be left behind – in fact, with ultrafast broadband on our doorstep, we’ll be leaping way ahead.”
Craig Duffield, partner at the Ledgowan Lodge country house hotel in Achnasheen, is among the first able to order an ultrafast service. He added: “Many of our visitors are used to city broadband speeds and we’d love them to have the same experience when they visit us.”
Some properties in the Garve area already have access to fibre broadband at speeds of up to 80Mbps* through the Digital Scotland rollout. Once the new ultrafast network is complete, GDB and the Lochluichart Community Trust will consider whether it’s possible to extend FTTP even further.
Robert Thorburn, Openreach partnership director for Scotland, said: “The challenges facing the Garve and District communities were phenomenal and they’ve worked incredibly hard to develop a unique solution.
“With a collaborative, multi-partner approach and a fierce will among the community to dig in and deliver, this is a truly brilliant – and unique – example of what can be achieved.
The Community Fibre Partnership scheme is designed to help people in places not included in any current roll-out plans to bring fibre broadband to their local area, working with Openreach to co-fund the installation.
Earlier this year, the UK government launched a Gigabit Broadband Voucher scheme which can be used by small and medium-sized businesses and the local communities around them to contribute to the cost of full fibre broadband. Businesses can claim up to £3,000, and residents can also benefit from the scheme with a voucher worth £500 as part of a wider project.