Some 57 properties in the isolated rural village of Drimnin (West Highlands, Scotland) can now access broadband speeds of up to 50Mbps. The new fixed wireless network reflects a community collaboration with Scottish Sea Farms, which has resulted in a new ISP being setup called Drimnin Community Broadband CIC.
Gaining access to “superfast broadband” can still be very problematic in many parts of rural Scotland and the United Kingdom, where deploying new fixed line networks is often disproportionately expensive. Meanwhile many such communities have also grown tired of waiting for the Government to come up with solutions and have instead sought to build their own.
The small village of Drimnin, which is tucked away at the end of 30 miles of single-track road from the A861 in the West Highlands and overlooks the waters of the Sound of Mull, is one such location. The community itself is comprised of just 57 properties, a village hall, a post office that’s open twice a week and a whisky distillery. But the latter has not helped locals to forget about their dire internet connectivity.
Until now residents have been left with little option but to use a slow and unreliable Satellite connection, which they say made it “difficult to carry out everyday activities such as online banking, filing VAT returns, watching catch-up TV, installing anti-virus software or computer updates.”
However the good news is that Scottish Sea Farms (SSF), which has also helped to connect another rural Scottish community (here), have been able to help as part of their effort to enable remote feeding at its salmon farms around the Sound of Mull (i.e. for those times when severe weather makes it unsafe to travel out by boat to the pens).
The solution came via a complex Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) network, which used a lot of repeaters operating in the 23GHz band to link back into Tobermory. At the same time locals have established a new Community Interest Company (CIC) – Drimnin Community Broadband – to help provide the broadband service to nearby premises.
Forbes Baylis, Project Leader for Scottish Sea Farms, said:
“Traditionally, a wireless radio link requires a direct line of sight, however the exposed location of some of our farms combined with the natural geography of the area meant this wasn’t an option. Our proposed solution, in partnership with wireless specialists Rapier Systems, was to effectively ‘bounce’ the signal back and forth from different locations, but this was dependent on us securing permission to install the necessary masts and repeaters at the most suitable locations.
Drimnin Community Broadband CIC proved instrumental in reaching out to businesses, both in the village itself and across on neighbouring Mull including Tobermory Harbour Association, Scottish Water and Ardnacross Farm situated near the waterworks.”
Mary Macgregor, Finance Officer with Tobermory Harbour Association, said:
“We are a community company and work to provide facilities for the benefit of the local area. As such, we are more than happy to help our neighbours across the water, Drimnin Community, by hosting the equipment for their new community broadband. We are also pleased to support Scottish Sea Farms in developing their remote feeding facility.”
Initially some 40 of the village’s 57 homes and businesses signed-up in advance via a 2 year subscription, which enabled the ISP to place an order for its own 200Mbps leased line from BT, organise construction works and even start digging the trenches for the power cables. This work has since completed.
SSF is understood to have contributed £55,000 to help build the network, while a further £12,500 came from the Morvern Community Trust and £10,000 from the National Lottery Fund. This helped to cover the costs for the new infrastructure and its installation. “Equally important though was ensuring that the new service would be viable to run in the long-term, so we introduced two price packages that makes it affordable,” said David Campbell, one of the CIC’s founding members.
Locals currently have a choice of paying either £27 per month for a package that offers unlimited (Fair Usage Policy) maximum download speeds of up to 7.5Mbps (2Mbps as a minimum) or £50 for the top speed of up to 50Mbps (10Mbps minimum). “Being in the middle of nowhere, Drimnin is the sort of community where we do lots of things for ourselves, but this particular project has been hugely popular with everyone in the village. The whole community pulled together to help make it happen,” added David.
Scottish Sea Farms is now understood to be in talks with a third remote local community about bringing similar connectivity to its farms and the surrounding area.