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Finderne rural internet protest

Rural Scots udderly unamoosed by internet speeds; set up office in field

Image credit: PA Picture Desk/Coran Gleed

Members of a rural Scottish community unhappy with their internet speeds and a troubled fibre rollout have moved their home offices to a field full of cows in a bid to draw attention to the issue.

The PA media agency visited locals who had set up a remote office amongst a field of cows in Finderne, a large rural community council area of Moray in north-east Scotland. The residents hope to draw attention to the inadequate broadband connectivity in the area and have challenged Paul Wheelhouse, the minister for connectivity, to work with them in the field for a day.

“Working from a desk in a field in the heart of our rural community will soon let Mr Wheelhouse get a taste of the everyday reality for those trying to run a business or home-school kids in this part of the world,” said Pery Zakeri, development manager of the Finderne Development Trust. “We’ve even seen people forced to leave the area because they can’t continue with university studies while living in their family home because the connectivity is so bad.

“There are days when you’d be more successful getting a usable connection by trying to plug your phone or computer into a turnip or maybe a passing cow.

“It’s the same story for remote and rural communities across Scotland. What we want to show him is that you can have everything you need for a workplace or home office, but in 2021 it’s pretty much worthless without a functioning broadband connection.”

The display was organised by the Trust, which was formed to push for the sustainable regeneration of the area. One of its key projects is to improve limited connectivity in the sparsely-populated area. They hope to establish a Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) through an Openreach scheme under which Openreach covers costs which fall within its commercial threshold.

In a post on its website from December, the Trust said that it has struggled to acquire the information necessary to take informed strategic decisions. It said that Openreach has not provided them with sufficient information about costs and that it has been advised that an unknown number of premises would not be eligible for funding under the Scottish Broadband Voucher Scheme.

The Scottish Government’s R100 programme aims to deliver 30Mbps to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021. However, the scheme has been suffering from delays and problems with the rollout of interim support vouchers worth £400 to help pay for short-term solutions until adequate infrastructure has been installed.

Wheelhouse responded: “We know that some communities still do not have the connectivity they need and deserve. That is why we are the only government in the UK committed to providing access to superfast broadband for every home and business in our country and we are investing £579m in the R100 programme.

“R100 is currently the biggest public sector investment in a single broadband project in the UK and includes £384m for the north of Scotland area alone - all this despite all regulation and legislative powers over broadband and telecommunications being the responsibility of Ofcom.”

Wheelhouse said that the R100 contract for the area was signed with BT in December 2020, ensuring that most of Scotland’s remote communities will have access to gigabit-speed broadband. He said that residents of Finderne are eligible for the voucher scheme and they will be able to claim their funds once a list of eligible premises under the R100 scheme is finalised with BT.

In 2019, the Conservative party pledged to deliver nationwide gigabit broadband connectivity to all homes by 2025. The government has accepted the Public Accounts Committee’s conclusion that this pledge is unachievable; 1.6 million UK premises cannot yet access superfast speeds and the most remote areas will struggle with slow broadband speeds for many years to come.

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