Local partnership ​brings broadband to remote community

Fish farm ​provides broadband to remote area Scottish Sea Farms has partnered with the local community to provide high-speed broadband to Drimnin. Photo: Scottish Sea Farms

Residents and businesses within the remote rural village of Drimnin are now enjoying all the advantages of faster, more reliable broadband thanks to an enterprising collaboration with leading salmon farmer Scottish Sea Farms and other local partners.

Described by some as the end of the road, Drimnin is tucked away at the end of 30 miles of a single-track road in the West Highlands where it’s home to just 57 properties, a village hall, a post office that’s open twice a week and a whisky distillery.

Not included within any private or public sector plans for the roll-out of broadband in the foreseeable future, villagers had to contend with a slow, unreliable satellite connection more than 30 times slower than terrestrial systems, making it difficult to carry out everyday activities such as online banking or filing VAT returns.

At the same time, Scottish Sea Farms was looking to enable remote feeding at its salmon farms around the Sound of Mull for those times when severe weather makes it unsafe to travel out by boat to the pens.

By joining forces, the two have successfully overcome the challenges of the local geography to deliver broadband. Because while Drimnin may be remote by land it’s just a few miles as the crow flies from Tobermory, meaning that a complex system of wireless radio links and repeaters would work, with the partners opting for the higher frequency band of 23 GHz to minimise any interference.

“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,” explained Forbes Baylis, senior IT analyst and project leader for Scottish Sea Farms.

“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.”

“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,” commented Tobermory Harbour Association’s finance officer Mary Macgregor.

“We are also pleased to support Scottish Sea Farms in developing their remote feeding facility. Scottish Sea Farms are important to the community as employers, and the ability to remote feed and monitor during bad weather will create a safer working environment for the fish farm workers.”

In addition to securing the permission and planning consents required, Drimnin Community Broadband CIC also worked hard to ensure the new service would be financially viable.

“Scottish Sea Farms very generously contributed £55k, likewise the Morvern Community Trust and National Lottery Fund awarded us £12.5k and £10k grants respectively, all of which helped towards the infrastructure and 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 to all,” explained Says David Campbell, one of the CIC’s founding members.

The result was that well more than 40 of the village’s 57 homes and businesses signed up in advance to two-year subscription, enabling Drimnin Community Broadband CIC to place the order for its own 200mb BT leased line, organise construction works and even start digging the trenches for the power cables.

“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,” David Campbell added.

Fast forward nine months, the new system is live and Drimnin’s locals haven’t looked back. Rhonda Newsham is visitor manager of Drimnin Estate which, in addition to being a working farm, offers a variety of holiday accommodation.

“We’ve gone from a situation where we had a monthly wi-fi allowance that guests very often used up within the first week, meaning we had to buy costly top-ups, to being able to advertise that we have unlimited free wi-fi,” she said.

“Quite a few of us work remotely. In the past when the satellite connection failed, we found ourselves having to drive to the nearest internet café, which could be anything from a half hour to several hours drive away depending on what was open. Now we can do everything we need to right here in Drimnin,” commented Mike Foulis, another founding member of the Drimnin Community Broadband CIC, adding that there are hopes that this development will support the village population’s long-term sustainability.

“One of the problems facing any remote community is how to attract more families, and broadband is key to this. Accessing homework assignments, undertaking distance learning, downloading music, computer gaming, messaging friends on social media – it’s all done online, making fast, reliable broadband as essential to younger generations as electricity and water,” he said.

“These things become disproportionately important in a community as remote as Drimnin. Because of the disadvantage of distance, you can’t just nip out for things like you can do in cities or more central areas.”

Drimnin is the second such community to partner Scottish Sea Farms this year, with the salmon farmer having already teamed up with rural broadband company HebNet CIC to bring broadband to residents and businesses of Knoydart and Loch Nevis.

Scottish Sea Farms is now in talks with a third remote local community about bringing similar connectivity to its farms and the surrounding area.

“This latest connectivity project is another strong example of how we are continually investing in our farming practices but in a way that also delivers maximum benefit to the communities in which we live and work. Teamwork, partnership, collaboration, call it what you like – it’s community spirit at its best,” said Scottish Sea Farms managing director Jim Gallagher.


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