Residents in West Burrafirth are set to enjoy among the fastest domestic internet connections in Shetland.
Fed up with inaction from big telecoms companies, members of the community decided to take matters into their own hands.
Wednesday will see the official “switch-on” of a scheme which involved installing a wireless broadband link at Engamoor. It means web users’ browsing experience will be up to 150 times faster.
The small West Side settlement’s good news was greeted warmly by isles MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott. Both said the action should serve as a “warning” to internet service providers to buck up their ideas when it comes to serving remote parts of the country.
West Burrafirth Community Broadband Group (WBCBG) made an approach to Shetland Broadband as it sought to resolve the area’s slow internet connection speeds.
After “awards for all” lottery funding was secured, Shetland Broadband designed and built the scheme. It will result in the connection speed increasing from around 160Kb to around 25Mb per second.
WBCBG chairman John White’s attempts to run his bus firm from an office in West Burrafirth have been hindered for years by a slow internet connection.
Five years ago he shared his frustrations with this newspaper at the length of time it took for him to send and receive documents when applying for EU funding.
As recently as September he told visiting BT management that the community’s connection speed was woefully inadequate.
Mr White said: “We are really pleased that we have been able to get the funding and infrastructure in place to ensure our community can access superfast broadband speeds. Shetland Broadband has been invaluable with [its] expertise in making this project a reality.”
WBCBG also singled out SIC community work officer Mick Clifton for his assistance in applying for funding.
Shetland Broadband manager Ian Brown said it was an “excellent project to be involved in” and he hopes to be able to replicate it for other Shetland communities.
The new wireless broadband link will provide much faster speeds because it operates through radio-transmitting antennae and receivers located on masts in Lerwick and West Burrafirth.
Previously residents relied on phone lines which, due to their distance from the telephone exchange, were unable to provide a good service. The West Burrafirth installation is powered by energy from a small wind turbine.
Its new link is connected to the fibre optic cable linking Shetland with Faroe and the Scottish mainland.
Shetland Telecom, set up by the SIC to improve access to digital technology, believes there is potential to extend the link in the future, enabling surrounding areas to access and benefit from the faster connection.
A similar system was set up in Fetlar and Vidlin as part of an SIC pilot scheme, but West Burrafirth is the first community group to get connected to “superfast” broadband.
Mr Carmichael applauded the WBCBG for its initiative: “Their drive and desire not to be left behind when it comes to broadband provision is a fantastic model for other communities in Shetland to follow.
“This will also act as a warning to the large internet service providers. If rural communities continue to miss out on service upgrades we can expect similar projects [to] fill the gap that has been left.”
Mr Scott said improved internet speeds had not reached most outlying parts of Shetland, so such projects were “real steps forward”.
“No house or business in Shetland should be without a better service,” he said. “Otherwise the tens of millions being poured into broadband by both UK and Scottish governments won’t be working.
“Any new funds and initiatives should help the areas who need it most and West Burrafirth certainly falls into that category.”