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Windfarm benefit fund helps pay for full-fibre broadband

A number of communities in the Highlands are using benefit funds established by a local windfarm provider to pay for full-fibre broadband services

Money paid into a community trust fund by windfarm operator Eneco is being released to help meet the cost of providing ultrafast full-fibre broadband to some of the country’s remotest communities in the Highlands of Scotland.

Centred on the remote Garve and District Community Council, the project will cover around 140 homes across approximately 26 miles of terrain along the main A835 road connecting Inverness and Ullapool.

The community-led roll-out, which is being spearheaded by a local volunteer group, Garve and District Broadband (GDB), is drawing down funds from the Lochluichart Community Trust. The trust was set up in 2014 as a non-profit community company to administer the community benefit fund provided through Eneco’s Lochluichart Wind Farm.

The trust, which currently receives payments worth close to £200,000 per annum, is one of a number of similar voluntary projects established across Scotland through which renewable energy companies provide financial benefits to their host communities, which can then be released to fund local development projects.

Further funding will be released through Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership scheme, and from the £428m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) programme, which is run locally by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

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.”

DSSB has already been through the area once, with a limited number of properties already able to access superfast fibre-to-the-cabinet services, and after work is complete on the ultrafast network, GDB and the Lochluichart Community Trust will look at the potential of extending the fibre roll-out further still

“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,” said community spokesperson Steve Jones.

“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 has been the case for many Highland communities that rely on the tourist industry, some of the first businesses to take up the service have been area pubs and hotels, among them the Ledgowan Lodge country house hotel, where partner Craig Duffield – who is among the first to be able to order an ultrafast service – is planning to use the service to enhance the guest experience.

“Many of our visitors are used to city broadband speeds and we’d love them to have the same experience when they visit us,” said Duffield.

“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 Wi-Fi around the hotel. We’ve tried this previously, but there was so much demand that we had to restrict access. “

Lesley Negri, who runs the Aultguish Inn near Garve, 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.”

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