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Community Project Aims Superfast Broadband for Scotland’s Inner Hebrides

Monday, December 15th, 2014 (8:10 am) - Score 1,657

One problem with BT’s recently completed and state aid supported £26.9m subsea fibre optic roll-out project (here) for Scotland’s Western Isles is that not everybody on those islands will benefit from the new connectivity. As a result a new community project has been established to fill in the gaps.

The Argyll Isles Community Broadband Project (aka – GigaPlusArgyll or GigaMull) says that its aim will be to offer “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) to Mull, Iona, Colonsay, Luing, Lismore, Jura, Craignish and parts of Islay (i.e. specifically those areas where BT’s land-based FTTC/P connectivity will not reach).

Crucially BT are said to have already “agreed in discussions with [Highlands and Islands Enterprise] that these areas will be removed from their contract scope” (i.e. the Broadband Delivery UK supported deployments) and the Scottish Government’s Community Broadband Scotland programme is expected to provide around £750,000 to cover 89% of the project’s cost.

GigaMull Statement

Readers may be aware that BT is currently installing new fibre optic cables in the north of the island [Isle of Mull]. This will deliver a service to Dervaig, Tobermory, Craignure and Lochdon, by the end of 2016 using a combination of the new fibre optic cable and existing copper telephone wires.

Other areas of the island are unlikely to benefit from these works and BT have agreed in discussions with HIE that these areas will be removed from their contract scope, subject to a suitable tender being received by GigaPlus Argyll for the provision of services in these areas. This will now allow GigaPlus Argyll to fill that gap by providing a community-owned, island based, superfast broadband service.”

According to an update on the projects website, which was first spotted by Thinkbroadband’s Andrew Ferguson, it’s hoped that a contract to install an appropriate service will be awarded in March 2015 and then the schemes backers perhaps optimistically expect that the first consumer connections could go live during April 2015.

Little is presently known about precisely what approach the project will adopt on the connectivity side, except that it involves “state of the art wireless technology” and this is probably the only economically viable option for such sparse and remote areas. It will also be interesting to see which altnet ISP is willing the take on the task of working in such a difficult environment, where access to a good power supply and poor weather could prove problematic.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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8 Responses
  1. Avatar dauphin says:

    Headline is somewhat misleading. The Western Isles are the Outer Hebrides (Lewis, Harris, North and South Uist, Benbecula, Barra and neighbouring islands). The article is referring to islands in the Inner Hebrides.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      My bad, I followed the logic of “if they’re an island off the western flank of Scotland then they’re a ‘western isle'” :). Adjusted the wording.

    2. Avatar James Harrison says:

      Interestingly the Outer Hebrides actually has a really decent broadband service already via fixed microwave link, iirc from Skye. Some friends there were involved in setting it up, it too was a community project with govt support. Good to see more infill being done!

  2. Avatar DTMark says:

    “Crucially BT are said to have already “agreed in discussions with [Highlands and Islands Enterprise] that these areas will be removed from their contract scope” ”

    I’m puzzled. Who was contracted to deliver the service to users in the first place?

    If it was BT, why is someone else doing it now?

    Or was the project to get the connectivity to the island, but someone forgot that it then had to reach the residents, so nobody was contracted?

    Where’s Stuart Baggs when you need him. I’m sure he could hop on a boat and sort it out.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I suspect it’s more the case of clarifying the uncertainty gap, which is what made it difficult for many altnets to get approval for RCBF investment. Effectively the incumbent contract holder, which in this and most other cases is BT, first have to agree that they won’t cover a location (even if they probably wouldn’t anyway) before it can be confirmed that somebody else will be able to do it (state aid rules etc.).

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      Hmmm. But the way I read it, is that BT were contracted (‘scoped’?) to deliver it.

      That being the case, why aren’t they delivering it?

      Who was supposed to deliver it; what was the plan?

    3. Avatar James Harrison says:

      Ah, no – effectively to get state aid involved you have to prove that it doesn’t overlap any other state aid. Even if BT have no plans to cover an area, the BDUK framework does cover an area unless explicitly excluded; there is a state aid clearance process which involves a consultation etc, and BT (as prime contractor) have to relinquish areas formally even if it’s bloody obvious they won’t do them. This has been a huge stumbling block for many an RCBF project – BT aren’t often keen to hand out this formal notice, since it’s just letting their competitors get funded.

  3. Avatar Vaughan Paul Bellman says:

    What a load of codswallop, BT laid a cable on Eastern side North Uist, which served exactly 2 businesses, because it was the easiest route to take , 8 almost straight miles,whilst ignoring the Western side of the island which included hundred of people in Claddach Kirkibost, Bayhead,Paible, Hosta ,Hogarry ,Tigarry , Middle Quarter, Sollas, the whole island of Bernary, Grenitote, Athmor Blashaval,Minish,(apologies to anyone I’ve missed), so dont talk to me about contracts, blow your own trumpet BT, but get your facts right. You are just a bunch of money grabbing naughties, who, when you cant fulfill your contract, just remove the place from the equation!!!!

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