A community company run by volunteers is celebrating the rollout of an innovative and ambitious project to provide broadband to a remote and rural part of the Scottish Highlands.
Locheilnet will provide fast, affordable and reliable wireless broadband to over 300 premises dispersed over the rural areas around the shores of Loch Eil near Fort William.
Established in October 2012, Locheilnet is a not-for-profit community interest company, run by local community members, many of whom are volunteers.
In order to identify, design and implement high speed broadband in the area, the community came together in partnership with local businesses and the public sector.
Through substantial initial funding from Marine Harvest, the Ardgour Area Fund, Foundation Scotland, the Highland Council Discretionary Fund, Rotary Club Lochaber and Corpach Boat Building, and with technical assistance with Rural Broadband Networks, Locheilnet successfully built much of the network's core infrastructure this summer.
Now with an additional £91,000 awarded by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) and invaluable support from local businesses the project can be finished, made resilient and become sustainable.
Locheilnet's wireless based network works by linking into a leased line hosted by Marine Harvest offices in Lochyside from which it is transmitted to the households via various masts and relay points.
Locheilnet is able to offer a service of up to 20Mbps to the 300 premises. The service could see even faster speeds when the Fort William exchange is upgraded next year as part of the fibre broadband rollout being led by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in partnership with the Scottish Government, BDUK and BT.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
“The Community Broadband Scotland partnership has enabled more than 300 homes in rural areas near Fort William to access to fast, efficient wireless broadband, and it is fantastic news that many rural premises and businesses in this area will soon begin to see the benefits of high quality digital connectivity.
“The Scottish Government’s ambition to deliver world-class digital connectivity by 2020 and access to superfast technology will be critical in ensuring the long-term economic prosperity of the Highlands and Islands, and Scotland as a whole.”
Chris Pellow, Project Manager Locheilnet, commented:
“The funding from Community Broadband Scotland is very much appreciated and arrived at the right time. We could not have made it to where we are now without the substantial funding from all our sponsors. The CBS funding will allow us to finish the job in style and install the customers who have been patiently awaiting this very moment. This funding provides us with the money to install the extra masts and relays to make the network robust and resilient.”
Mark Tate, Director of Community Broadband Scotland, commented:
“The dedication and vision of the directors and other volunteers of Locheilnet has been truly inspirational. When I spoke with the group back in November they were already delivering broadband speeds of up to 20mb to people in some of the most remote parts of their area. Their success was so great that the volunteers where struggling to keep up with the orders for Locheilnet’s internet service. Our funding has enabled them to employ local tradesmen to get 80 families and businesses connected in time for Christmas. Funding will also go into ensuring the network is more resilient and reliable through the provision of more robust masts. We are delighted to help such an ambitious group to provide a fantastic internet service which will transform the way people, live work and learn around the remote shores of Loch Eil.”
Sandy Edmond, a volunteer with Locheilnet, commented:
”I think what makes Locheilnet transformational and sets it apart from many other projects is the proof that a bunch of volunteers from all around a remote, rural area can get together and help themselves to a better future. Certainly, the service will benefit individuals greatly to different degrees but what I find inspiring is that we have achieved it within a remarkable timeframe. We’ve proved that community life does indeed exist in the Highlands and not just in traditional areas but within the hi-tech field as well.”
Jackie Fraser is a customer of Locheilnet. She commented:
“Having an internet connection again has made my life so much easier in so many ways. When I moved into my new build house we were without an internet connection for nearly five months.
“I don't think I realised how much I depended on the internet until I had limited access to it. I can now keep in touch with my daughter in India who is volunteering during her gap year. I also have a daughter, son-in-law and 20 month granddaughter in Sydney and through Skype I can now watch my granddaughter opening her presents thanks to Locheilnet”
“As a community nurse I normally do many of my mandatory courses online at home. It's very important that I keep my knowledge current to enable me to do my job and renew my registration.
“The team who have worked tirelessly to bring this service to the community are fantastic. Many thanks to Chris, Ian, Jim and the team of volunteers who have made this possible.”
View the Locheilnet video on YouTube here