Bute rural broadband frustration persists

Next-generation broadband services are due to come to most of Bute - including the rural parts of the island - in the first half of 2016.
Next-generation broadband services are due to come to most of Bute - including the rural parts of the island - in the first half of 2016.

The chances of broadband services to rural parts of Bute being improved any time before 2016 look slim at best.

The AGM of the Bute Rural Community Broadband Group, held on the island this week, heard that BT’s plans to upgrade most of the island to receive next-generation broadband (NGB) in the first half of 2016 - had scuppered plans for a community-based project which would at least have brought better broadband to Kingarth and Kilchattan Bay.

BT announced earlier this year that the Kilchattan Bay exchange would be upgraded at the same time as the exchange in Rothesay - meaning Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), a government agency set up to help areas not covered by the BT project, is no longer able to give its backing to a community-based scheme at the south end of the island.

And the frustration of south end residents at Wednesday’s meeting at the Kingarth Hotel was clear to see and hear - particularly when Stuart Robertson, director of Digital Highlands and Islands, BT’s public sector partner in a £146m project to bring NGB services to rural Scotland, admitted that the point of the BT scheme was not to improve broadband in areas where the service is poor at present.

David Brown, who lives at the Wee Bay in Kingarth, said: “It would appear we’ve been sort of gazumped by BT’s announcement talking about 2016. At the moment we have to come here [the Kingarth Hotel] to upload anything.

“Business, revenue and employment opportunities are being lost all the time, and ‘jam tomorrow’ just isn’t good enough.”

And Kilchattan Bay resident Bill Wren added: “Is it fair that BT charges everyone the same for broadband, regardless of location or quality of service?”

Defending HIE’s role, Mr Robertson said: “Left to their own devices, BT would not be bringing superfast broadband to Bute or much else of the Highlands and Islands.

“The project is not about bringing better broadband to people who have poor broadband at present: it’s about getting as much superfast broadband as possible for a given amount of money.

“I would have to knock on the head any claim that BT announced the Kilchattan Bay upgrade in 2016 only because of CBS’s interest in a community scheme. BT coming here had nothing to do with CBS.

“I would love you to have a better broadband service. I’m not condoning BT, but they would say it is as expensive, if not more so, to provide you with your existing broadband service than to provide a spanking new service to someone in Glasgow.”