Fibre broadband brought to two of the UK's remotest communities

Fibre broadband brought to two of the UK's remotest communities

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Residents of some of the UK's most remote communities are set to enjoy gigabit-capable broadband services as the result of a new project from Openreach through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband scheme.

All residents on the island of Grimsay in the Outer Hebrides are now able to access speeds of up to 1Gbps, as can the 220 households on the island of Great Bernera off the north-west coast of Lewis.

This has been made possible due to engineering works that have laid 90km of fibre-optic cabling, and means islanders can now enjoy services up to 18.5 times faster than the UK average.

Before the project, the islands were only connected by an expensive satellite broadband link or a wireless connection over an independent radio network that offered download speeds of around 2Mbps. However, some 65 per cent of Grimsay's 110 households have already signed up for the new service.

Visiting the island, Scottish government minister for public health, sport and wellbeing Joe FitzaPatrick said the services will be of great benefit to residents, acting as an economic stimulus and allowing access to services such as remote healthcare, which is vital for people in rural and island communities.

"Full fibre not only enables local industries to engage fully online, but future-proofs the island for economic development and growth," he said. "In a world where technology is a main driver, good connectivity levels the playing field, creating new opportunities and stemming depopulation."

Among the residents enjoying the benefits of the technology are Robin and Michelle Spratt, who runs a candle-making business on Grimsay, as well as a bed and breakfast for visitors. He told the BBC that in the past, he was unable to offer visitors access to his satellite broadband because it would use up the connection's limited data allowance.

"It was embarrassing. But since the fibre came all that's changed," Mr Spratt said. He added the family can also now accept electronic payments on site and enjoy services like catch-up TV in their personal life for the first time.

Robert Thorburn, Openreach’s partnership director for Scotland, also explained the Western Isles had proved to be the most difficult location in the UK to deliver full fibre broadband, due to its low population density, many remote and scattered homes, and geographical challenges.

However, he noted: "There’s more to do, but if we can bring full fibre broadband to a scattered community like Grimsay, then it can be done anywhere."

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