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Broadband link pledge delight for Kinbrace

By SPP Reporter

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Andrew Walywn of Tooway.
Andrew Walywn of Tooway.

CHRISTMAS has come early for a remote and rural Sutherland community with the offer of a bumper broadband gift for every household.

Satellite broadband internet service provider (ISP) ToowayDirect has confirmed it is willing to install individual connections free-of-charge to households in Kinbrace and surrounding district.

They would then be responsible for the monthly costs.

The Oxfordshire based firm made the offer – worth £300-£400 per house – following an approach from local resident Chas Shaw who earlier this year set up the Kinbrace Development Group.

One of the group’s priorities was to achieve a high-speed broadband connection for Kinbrace.

The village is currently served by a British Telecom fixed line, but because of the distance from the exchange – located 18 miles away in Helmsdale – broadband speeds average just 0.2Mbps (megabites per second) or even lower at busy periods.

Mr Shaw says this is impacting strongly on residents’ lives.

An application from the newly established group for Scottish Hydro Gordonbush Community Fund for grant aid to cover the installation costs of satellite broadband, was turned down on the grounds it would set a precedent by benefiting individual homes and not the community.

Mr Shaw is delighted with Tooway’s offer and hopes that residents will take advantage of it. He claimed the much vaunted, government-funded project to provide "next generation" fibre broadband would not benefit areas like Kinbrace because the costs of running a spur off the main line for so few households would be prohibitive.

And he criticised bodies such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and wind farm community benefit funds for refusing to fund satellite broadband installation costs.

He said: "The barriers to acquiring satellite broadband were the up-front fees which, in this economic climate, were a real impediment.

"No matter how strongly I voiced the predicament and tried to source funds to cover these fees, the pleas fell on deaf ears.

"If Tooway had not come up with this generous offer, then things would have stayed the same for years."

ToowayDirect managing director Andrew Walwyn said satellite broadband was still a relatively unknown technology and the company hoped to use Kinbrace as an example of what could be achieved for small, remote communities.

He explained: "Although many people have never heard of satellite broadband, some people may have experienced first generation satellite services, which, although better than dial-up, didn’t offer a great user experience.

"The technology has moved on considerably and June last year saw the launch of a new satellite Ka-Sat which runs on completely new technology.

"Speeds are much faster and airtime subscriptions cheaper, with a top download speed for home users of 18Mbps and an upload speed of up to 6Mbps. These speeds are the same as you would get if you lived in a big town."

Mr Walwyn went on to say that ToowayDirect had been delighted to answer Mr Shaw’s appeal for help and hoped to hold up the Kinbrace community as an example to other remote areas. "We decided to spend what we would normally allocate as a marketing budget on Kinbrace and use it as an example to others. We want communities to know there is a really good quality solution available to them now, however remote they are from the fibre infrastructure."

A spokesperson for HIE, said: "We know that high speed digital connectivity is important to our communities and HIE has been working since the early 1990s with communities to find ways to get online when they couldn’t get commercial broadband services.

"A next generation rural broadband project, one of the largest and most ambitious in the UK, has been developed.

"The Scottish Government has a target that high speed broadband will be available to all by 2020, with significant progress by 2015. It has announced £120 million, including funding from BDUK, towards a project in the Highlands and Islands. HIE is currently discussing detailed plans with BT which is bidding for a contract to roll out the infrastructure needed to deliver superfast services right across the region.

"In Sutherland, HIE is working closely with the Helmsdale and District Development Trust (HDDT) to support its plans on behalf of the local community.

"Here, as in other areas, the current infrastructure is being examined to determine what options and technologies for more reliable broadband exist or can be developed."

The spokesperson added: "For communities in particularly hard to reach areas the Scottish Government announced that it is investing in a three year, £5 million project called Community Broadband Scotland (CBS).

"The service will be fully operational in the new year, but communities developing their own innovative ways to get online can get in touch now for advice and support by calling 0800 917 3688. A seed fund will be available to a number of projects and expressions of interest can be made from January 2013."

For further information on ToowayDirect visit: www.toowaydirect.com or call 01869 356166.

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