Highlanders invite Minister to work in cow field
Pery Zakeri: anger
Highlanders blighted by snail speed internet have set up an office in a cow field – and invited the minister responsible for the nation’s broadband to work from it for a day to experience their frustrations.
Angry locals in a Moray beauty spot have set up the ultimate “remote office” in a field in rural Finderne, near Forres.
They want Connectivity Minister Paul Wheelhouse to sample the realities of rural broadband for himself.
Pery Zakeri is development manager of the Finderne Development Trust, which has been working to bring fast broadband to Finderne and say the Scottish Government has delayed providing interim vouchers worth £400 to help Scots improve their web access.
She said: “Working from a desk in a field in the heart of our rural community will soon let Mr Wheelhouse get a taste of the everyday reality for those trying to run a business or home school kids in this part of the world.
“We’ve even seen people forced to leave the area because they can’t continue with university studies while living in their family homes because the connectivity is so bad.
Paul Wheelhouse: invitation (pic: Terry Murden)
“There are days when you’d be more successful getting a usable connection by trying to plug your phone or computer into a turnip, or maybe a passing cow. It’s the same story for remote and rural communities across Scotland.
“What we want to show him is that you can have everything you need for a workplace or home office – but in 2021 it’s pretty much worthless without a functioning broadband connection.”
Families and businesses covered by the Finderne Development Trust have faced years of frustration with internet connection speeds, worsened by the pressures of the Coronavirus lockdowns.
Initially they attempted to pursue a Community Fibre Partnership and pinned their hopes on getting superfast fibre connections for the 498 properties in the area. However, those dreams were dashed when the door was slammed shut by Openreach in mid-December.
Now the community has all of its hopes pinned on Mr Wheelhouse’s flagship R100 – Reaching 100% programme, which promises to deliver 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021.
However, the R100 programme has been hit by a series of delays and, as Finderne residents have been told that it could take between 4-5 years to be delivered, the community claims the Government has fumbled the rollout of interim support vouchers.
The Trust claims those £400 vouchers would help families and businesses pay for short term solutions to help them achieve faster connectivity until R100 is delivered. For most, that would simply mean offsetting the cost of slightly faster – but expensive – mobile connections.
But the interim vouchers will not be made available until delivery of R100 begins later this year – meaning further agonising delays for Finderne and other affected communities across Scotland.
Ms Zakeri added: “Why we are so angry at the moment is that we’ve been in discussions with Mr Wheelhouse, via our local MSP, Richard Lochhead, and among our requests for help and information, we asked if it might be possible to reverse this ridiculous policy.
“After waiting months for his response, we finally received what amounted to a patronising lecture about the history of the R100 programme – something we are very aware of having undertaken considerable research into broadband.
“And he didn’t respond to us at all on the issue of the interim voucher scheme, which has infuriated everyone.
“It really was the only point we wanted to hear from him on, as this is the only thing that can change broadband right now.”