Broadband in the Western Isles
Individuals, businesses and organisations in the Western Isles are being encouraged to make their needs and demands for Broadband services known.
That was the message to participants at a Broadband for Business roadshow in Stornoway this afternoon (Tuesday 12th November). The event, organised by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Western Isles Enterprise (WIE) and AIMhi - the creative industries group for the Highlands and Islands - aimed to raise people’s awareness of the benefits of Broadband.
Broadband offers businesses faster ways of working with ‘always on’ access, fixed costs and increased efficiency as well as opening up potential new areas of work.
The ambitious ‘Connected Communities’ project - to deliver a Broadband wireless network across the Western Isles - is now in the planning stages and identification of potential users will greatly enhance the design of the network.
Unveiling the ‘Connected Communities’ website www.connectedcommunities.co.uk at the Broadband for Business roadshow, Donnie Morrison, of Work Global and co-ordinator for the Regional Broadband Group, launched the plea for people to register their interest and requirements.
He said: “There is obviously a strong demand for Broadband with over 100 people at this event in Stornoway today and at least a further 20 attending the roadshow in Benbecula on Thursday. We need to quantify that information though by finding out what businesses and organisations need and where these people are living and working in order to deliver the most efficient wireless Broadband network possible.”
Donnie Macaulay, chief executive of WIE commented “The ‘Connected Communities’ project is a very exciting prospect for the Western Isles and will, for example, help remove barriers to inward investment and allow our businesses to compete effectively, as well as reducing peripherality.”
The project, using Broadband wireless technology, will utilise existing masts at strategic points throughout the five main islands, forming a backbone. The network backbone will link in with several ‘hops’ to the main communities of the Western Isles - and using a combination of unlicensed frequency spectrum including 2.4 wireless systems - provide a range of bandwidth options to a diverse group of users. Typically these users will be the local school, learning centre, a doctor’s surgery or the local historical society, as well as small to medium sized enterprises.
The pilot project is seen as being at the forefront of delivery of Broadband to rural areas. People in many other parts of the UK are already in touch with the project team as they attempt to resolve similar issues in other rural areas which are unable to get Broadband.
The £1.5m ‘Connected Communities’ Broadband project is being funded by several main partners including WIE and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) and in addition the project has £1m worth of backing from the Scottish Executive through UKOnline and the DTI Broadband Fund. Western Isles NHS is also a principal partner.
The ‘Connected Communities’ project team have considered bids from a number of suppliers following a competitive bidding process and have selected a preferred bidder. Final costing for the project will be agreed over the next few weeks.
Donnie Morrison said he could not stress enough the advantages of Broadband: “ The general availability of wireless Broadband in our communities will bring major benefits to all sectors of our society.
“As well as the obvious benefits to local companies and home-users, E-Government will be facilitated by this new network - and in the islands of Harris, Uist and Barra - council offices, schools, hospitals, medical centres and UHI Learning Centres will link through this network to administrative centres in Stornoway as will other community and business enterprises.”
Councillor Donald MacLean, chairman of the Council’s Sustainable Development Committee, said: “The development of broadband facilities for the Western Isles has been identified as a key driver in the economic regeneration strategy ‘Creating Communities of the Future’. Broadband would help to stimulate a cascade of other development.
“Information Communications Technology has given the islands a level playing field but it is essential to maintain the progress we have made in recent years, to allow existing business to grow and new business to locate to the islands.”
Western Isles Health Board NHS Board Chief Executive Murdo MacLennan noted the exciting possibilities. “The Connected Communities project will providing the infrastructure essential for innovative health applications such as telemedicine, and the technical possibilities it will enable for supporting Primary, Secondary and Community health staff in the delivery of health care to the people of the Western Isles."
One significant benefit of the Broadband wireless network is that it will allow for the increased used of telemedicine giving GPs in remote parts of the Western Isles on-line access to specialist consultants in Stornoway.
To find out more about the ‘Connected Communities’ Broadband project and to fill in an on-line questionnaire, please visit www.connectedcommunities.co.uk