Around 140 homes stretching 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.
Around 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 locally, with the rest getting a full-fibre upgrade through a Community Fibre Partnership with Openreach.
Homes in tiny settlements and hamlets like 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 per cent 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 per cent 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.
“Once the infrastructure goes live, we’ll start to enjoy the major benefits of being online with the fastest and most reliable speeds: watch catch up TV; stream films; Skype with ease; lower household costs; the whole family will be able to run all devices simultaneously; school kids will be able to do their homework online; greater independence at home; access to cheaper training, life-long learning and government services and, for businesses, lower costs and better marketing.
“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!”
Local businesses scattered throughout the glens are eagerly looking forward to the many benefits that access to the new FTTP network will bring. Much faster upload and download speeds will help them to improve the way they work, explore global markets and introduce more efficient operations and better back-up systems and processes.
Craig Duffield, partner at the Ledgowan Lodge country house hotel in Achnasheen, is among the first able to order an ultrafast service. He said: “Many of our visitors are used to city broadband speeds and we’d love them to have the same experience when they visit us.
“Ultrafast broadband will make a huge difference. We’ll be able to access and integrate online booking systems easily; download computing software; expand our conferencing services; and extend wifi around the hotel. We’ve tried this previously but there was so much demand that we had to restrict access.
“The community has worked really well together to make this happen – it will be great for the area. Trying to operate a business on less than half-a-megabit per second has been frustrating, but now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Lesley Negri, who runs the historic Aultguish Inn near Garve with her husband Dario, added: “It will make a huge difference to us, especially for our booking system and payments.
“At the moment everything slows down from 4pm and we can’t manage customer expectations. Many of our customers want to stream things or download photographs and it’s impossible to do that at the moment. We’ve lived with slow broadband for so long that we can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when we can access ultrafast speeds!”
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.
“A huge amount of civil work is under way. We’re making good progress and we’re excited to announce today that the very first residents in Achnasheen can now place their orders with their chosen service provider. We expect to complete work by the end of this year.”
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.
Stuart Robertson, Director of Digital at HIE, said: “This is an interesting example demonstrating how the expanding fibre network being delivered through the Digital Scotland project in rural areas can be built upon to reach even further. By working together, the Achnasheen community and the Community Fibre Partnership are extending the coverage and benefits of fibre broadband to some of the area’s remotest premises.”