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Scottish government launches £9m community broadband project

Scottish Rural Development Programme will offer grants to community-led fibre broadband projects around Scotland

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has cut the ribbon on a £9m funding programme for broadband in rural areas, which will support community-led fibre broadband projects.

The additional funding for the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) aims to foster more projects similar to GigaPlus Argyll, a community-owned project that has seen a number of hard-to-reach communities team up to procure superfast services from commercial providers.

The scheme was launched at Oban’s Phoenix Cinema – which has already received some support under the SRDP to install its own Wi-Fi network and now plans to run more events, such as live-streaming theatre shows from elsewhere in the UK.

Sturgeon said: “This scheme takes the available funding for community broadband projects up to £16.5m in Scotland, over and above the £400m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) investment.

“It is another step to achieving the Scottish government’s aim of delivering world-class connectivity by 2020 and enabling people across Scotland to connect any time, any place, anywhere, using any device.”

The SRDP 2014-20 grant scheme will be delivered under the auspices of Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), which is administered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

CBS director Zoe Laird said: “Our role at CBS is to help communities find innovative solutions and GigaPlus Argyll is a great example of an innovative business model that will bring transformational and robust broadband to the most remote of premises across eight island and mainland communities. The SRDP scheme will enable us to help even more rural communities across Scotland to get digitally connected.”

Moray Finch, chairman of GigaPlus Argyll, which covers the islands of Mull and Iona, as well as Colonsay, Luing, Lismore, Jura, Craignish and parts of Islay, said most properties in the area covered by the scheme struggled to access speeds of 2Mbps.

“By getting together with CBS, we have been successful in securing tenders and appointing a company specialising in the installation and operation of wireless superfast broadband which will deliver affordable services to 1,400 homes and businesses, opening up huge opportunities for us,” he said.

SRDP has also attracted the attention of a number of business associations, including the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative, which plans to help local businesses take advantage of the increased support.

Earlier in August, DSSB received a funding boost of £18m to extend the roll-out of superfast broadband into remoter parts of Scotland.

The money was released after the activation of the claw-back mechanism written into Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) contracts.

Under the terms of the mechanism, BT is currently pumping £129m back into the public purse around the UK to increase broadband availability in the second phase of the BDUK programme, which aims to bring 24Mbps broadband speeds to 95% of the country by the end of 2017.

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As one of those registered for Gigaplus Argyll (our family croft is on the Ross of Mull), I look forward to seeing the announcement lead to practical progress. Interestingly the problem is not the cost of the local delivery network - it is getting reliable links over a mountains where the BT, Vodafone/O2 and BBC relay masts are regularly put out of action by lightning strikes and other storm damage. Hence the need for maintenance and support to be based on the island - without a delay of days or weeks for it to come from the mainland. As those who built the B4RN network might say: "Its not rocket science: just a WAN in a hostile environment".
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