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Just under 200 properties around the village of Balquhidder in Stirlingshire, central Scotland, are to receive a full-fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband service after local residents banded together to dig their own trenches and lay their own cables.
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Backed with a £100,000 grant from Stirling Council, a similar investment from specialist internet service provider (ISP) Bogons, and rural development funding from the Scottish Leader programme, the Balquhidder Community Broadband (BCB) project has rolled out a gigabit-capable full-fibre network across the area, boosting speeds and hopefully improving economic opportunities.
Located in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and known as the last resting place of Scottish folk hero Rob Roy, Balquhidder was previously overlooked by commercial broadband roll-outs. But by enlisting little-known ISP Bogons – which is currently converting a disused nuclear bunker in the area into a new datacentre – BCB says it has been able to keep construction costs as low as possible, at a level about half that of a commercial FTTP build.
Project founder, tech entrepreneur and local resident Richard Harris – who currently runs an international artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) company called Two Worlds – said the area around Balquhidder had seen its economic development and resilience crippled by the lack of effective communications.
“Balquhidder, like much of rural Scotland, offers a high quality of life in an active community in stunning surroundings,” said Harris. “I have spent 11 years in efforts that have led to this project, during which time I’ve twice had to move growing companies out of Scotland because of poor communications.
“Without this network, we would soon have had to move out of the area altogether. With it, we can now do the opposite – start to attract more skilled individuals and other companies into the area.”
Tom Lewis, owner of locally based restaurant and hotel operator Mhor Group, said the build had been vital to his business development.
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“The markets we target expect and demand a good internet connection,” he said. “Our current satellite feed is really expensive and only lets us provide limited email services to our customers, which has had a negative impact in our corporate conference business.
“It will be transformational once we are connected and finally allowed to manage our businesses in Balquhidder, Callander and Glasgow from our home in Balquhidder.”
Stirling Council’s finance and economy chair, Margaret Brisley, said: “Access to high-speed broadband and connectivity is a major issue for communities in rural Stirling, impacting on economic growth and access to services. The Balquhidder Community Broadband Project is an excellent example of a community providing a solution to this challenge, supported by Stirling Council and private sector partners.
“The council recognises the leadership and commitment shown by the community and is delighted to work in partnership to deliver this project. Providing world-class broadband connectivity to Balquhidder will be transformational, enabling and supporting the economic growth of the area while giving the community full access to services.”
For Bogons, the dig was the first time it has been involved in a community broadband project, but company director Brandon Butterworth said it is now looking to expand its horizons and has already started to develop a wireless ISP proposition around nearby Loch Tay.
“We are looking to help other communities where the community is willing to do the digging and other works for us to install fibre,” he said. “A DIY dig saves the community a significant part of the install cost where any fibre, even fibre to the cabinet [FTTC], has not previously been available.”