Eight island and mainland communities on Scotland’s dramatic west coastline have joined forces with Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) to develop a ground-breaking, community led, superfast broadband project.
Initially led by the Mull and Iona Community Trust, communities representing some of the hardest to reach broadband areas on Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Jura, Lismore, Islay, Luing and the peninsula of Craignish are working together to create community owned GigaPlus Argyll.
Following an open competitive procurement GigaPlus Argyll chose Lincoln based AB Internet Limited to work with the innovative community / private sector partnership.
With residents in many areas currently struggling with speeds below 2 Mbps, the project will deliver up to 50 Mbps, changing the way people live, work and learn across the GigaPlus Argyll area.
CBS has worked closely with and supported the community through the tender process and approved funding of £988k to support the roll-out of the community owned wireless network which will bring access to more than 1,400 homes and businesses.
The project will look to maximise coverage in identified areas where the £410m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband fibre project is unlikely to reach. CBS is a Scottish Government initiative, delivered across Scotland by Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It supports people in the hardest to reach broadband areas to look at how community networks could help them get better connected.
Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay, said: “This is a pioneering project overcoming significant geographical, engineering and commercial challenges to bring superfast broadband to homes and businesses not only scattered across communities, but in this case, across islands.
“Every day we are building on the growing broadband infrastructure, reaching further into our rural and remote areas. Every forward step supports the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver first-rate connectivity in Scotland by 2020, ensuring we are a world class digital nation.”
GigaPlus Argyll Ltd (GPA) has procured and will manage the project which will be delivered in phases. It is likely that the south of Mull and Lismore will be connected first, followed by Luing and the northern end of Jura. From these key locations, the deployment will spread north-west across Mull, south through Colonsay, the Craignish Peninsula and parts of Jura, to the Loch Gruniart area to the west of Islay, and to Ulva and Iona with project completion expected in June 2016.
Moray Finch is Chairman of the newly formed GigaPlus Argyll and General Manager of the Mull and Iona Community Trust (MICT). MICT is involved in delivering a wide range of community services and projects and is supporting the GigaPlus project.
He commented: “Connections in all of these areas are poor, many with speeds less than 2 Mbps, and the project will deliver transformational change to island residents and businesses. To go from the superslow lane to being able to offer affordable broadband to meet the needs of homeowners as well as uncontended commercial connections for businesses will open up huge opportunities for us.”
An economic impact assessment for the project highlights that access to better broadband could deliver at least £3.6m to the area from increased economic activity. There will be additional benefits during the construction, with the creation of 8 full-time jobs.
CBS Director Mark Tate, said: “Finding ways to bring robust high-speed broadband to our most remote and rural communities, where all communications are notoriously difficult, will have a transformational impact on the way people live, work and learn. It opens avenues in both social and economic terms.
“This project is truly ground-breaking in the way it brings together the community, the private sector and public sector advice, support and funding to deliver a robust and sustainable next generation solution. The service will be delivered over a community-owned infrastructure that will be operated by a commercial internet service provider on a fixed term contract/lease with local labour. We were delighted with the quality and number of bidders prepared to take on this challenge and look forward to working with AB Internet and GigaPlus Argyll as we move into delivery stage.”
Darren Round of AB Internet said: “We’re really excited about helping to change the lives of the locals. Regardless of how you look at it, from the technical platform to the commercial model, or the community involvement to the headline user speeds, this is a ground-breaking project.”
In addition to the delivery of the infrastructure, CBS will work with GigaPlus Argyll, the HIE digital team and community groups to support local people with events and advice to get the most out of their new connections.