Small communities are being urged to act fast if they want to gain a share of a £5 million Scottish government financial package for improved broadband across the north of Scotland.
The money is being offered as part of a Community Broadband Scotland plan, which is aimed at helping rural community groups gain speedier internet connections. But demand for a slice of the relatively small pie is expected to be high.
Rural areas from throughout the Highlands and Islands will be eligible to apply for a share of the seed funding, which is being offered over three years.
A new telephone helpline and website offering advice and practical support will be available from October. A dedicated team of staff will also work to provide hands-on assistance to groups that are in need.
The scheme has been welcomed by Shetland Telecom’s Marvin Smith, although he said communities would need to act fast if they were going to be allocated a share of the money.
“It’s a welcome scheme but I think demand will be quite high, and I would urge any Shetland communities that think they might benefit from this to come forward with any ideas they might have.
“The scheme would be ideal for Shetland communities to get connected. But with a £5 million project over three years, and only £1 million up-front, demand will be quite high.”
Despite that, he said some community broadband projects could be achieved for less cash than many might think. He cited the recent scheme which was set up for Fetlar at a cost of just £50,000.
“I think the £5 million is obviously welcome. We do have a couple of community broadband projects in Shetland which are operational, and if any of this money could be used to replicate those systems then that would be great.”
Chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise Alex Paterson welcomed the move.
“This is an important new initiative which will support communities and develop innovative solutions to bring fast, reliable broadband services to some of Scotland’s most rural locations.
“While there are challenges there can be significant economic and social benefits from improving broadband.
“The seed fund will provide the help communities need to ensure Scotland has a world-class digital network by 2020.”
Cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital investment, Alex Neil, said: “Broadband should not be considered a luxury in rural areas in the Highlands; it is essential to enhance the quality of life and stimulate the growth of the local economy.”