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Is DIY broadband the key to Scotland’s rural digital economy?


As the BBC reported in September, Audit Scotland has said it’s unclear how Scotland will achieve their goal of 100% availability of 30Mbps broadband, and that additional funding on top of the £600m to date may be required.

about a quarter of rural areas cannot receive 10 Mbs, the auditors said.

It’s a common challenge for rural communities, Wales too struggles the same way, but it’s a no brainer that in today’s digital economy the building block of a competitive nation is that every one has access to high speed Internet.

However although BT Openreach is rolling out access extensively, such as delivering FTTP to Orkney, Shetland and Lewis, coverage in parts of Scotland is still poor. The Highlands and Islands have the worst mobile Internet service in the UK and Scottish 4G coverage is less than half that of England.

DIY broadband

Like any challenge the opportunity is to treat it as the mother of invention, what some Scottish communities are starting to do, and how they are doing so opens up new ways to think about how best to address it.

Audit Scotland reports that just 13 of the 63 initiatives were successful with a lack of specialist skills, poor communication and complex tendering requirements causing lengthy delays and failed procurements. Scottish Borders published a report describing that the roll-out “possibly” delivered value for money, but there were “major problems with the quality of the coverage.”

So how it is being rolled out is part of the challenge and therefore an ideal scenario for a more inventive and grass roots approach too.

For example the Balquihidder Community Broadband project, who financed and built their own.

The lack of effective broadband connection in the rural area of Balquhidder in central Scotland motivated the inhabitants to build their own network. They set up the co-operative “Balquhidder Community Broadband” and took on the physical task of laying down the infrastructure and installing fibre optic cables in order serve most of the households in their area.

They combined LEADER funding with other funding sources in order to hire experts to work with them on this project. This is a great example of a community working together to bring high-speed broadband to their area.

Smart Villages – Resilient Rural Communities

As well as meeting this immediate need there’s an important underlying key theme – That of rural communities becoming more self-reliant in general, a principle goal of ‘Smart Villages‘.

A common challenge for government initiatives is that they are top down, leading to an inevitable centralization and thus diluted efforts for the ‘long tail’ of the nations needs. This broadband roll out is one example and another is tourism – The advent of VisitScotland has resulted in a concentration of investment into the major regions and tourism attractions but little support for the many rural communities.

So in a similar fashion rural communities must also think in terms of self-organizing their own initiatives for tourism marketing, job creation and new business startups. Taking the bull by the horns for their broadband as a first step is a beginning of that journey.

What do you think? Join the debate

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Kenny Higgins

DIY Broadband Hmmm . Several things come to mind : 1. Aspiration and Ambition and time to make it succeed – especially when ground works, excavation may need volunteers with skills to overcome local topographical issues. 2. Mega Funding to allow it to happen 3. What cost per connected property ? 4. Resilience to combat power outages, quite common in Rural Scotland affecting Telephony and Mobile Networks as well as Broadband ? 5. Impact within a Rural environment with regard to flooding and landslips ? 6. The need or desire for greater than 60Mbs speed. If all of the above… Read more »

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