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Residents ‘outraged’ over high-speed broadband funding snub

A remote Sutherland community is up in arms after being denied windfarm benefit funding to install a high-speed satellite broadband connection to homes.

An application for £5000 by the recently formed Kinbrace Development Group to Scottish Hydro’s Gordonbush Community Fund was rejected last week.

Fund managers, the Scottish Community Foundation (SCF) claimed that if the application had been granted, it would set a precedent by benefiting individual homes and not the community.

Development group chairman Charles Shaw accused them of being “out of touch.”

He said: “We’re astonished and outraged. The decision makers are obviously not in touch with the real issues experienced in remote communities like Kinbrace.”

A faster broadband connection has long been on the village’s wish list. Internet speeds via the existing British Telecom connection in Kinbrace average a “pitiful” 0.2Mbs but can sink to 125Kbps or lower at busy periods. By contrast speeds in Helmsdale are 15 times faster.

Mr Shaw said the poor connection was impacting strongly on residents’ lives.

“In particular there are two students who cannot effectively attend to their studies because of the poor connectivity,” he said.

After extensive research, it was decided the best way forward was to link homes to KA-SAT, a high throughput telecoms satellite.

Explained Mr Shaw: “The £120 million government broadband initiative doesn’t have the money to run a high-fibre optic cable 18 miles up the strath and BT doesn’t have Kinbrace on their radar for improvements.”

Residents strongly backed the group’s application for funding, with around 33 signatures collected from householders. It was also supported by East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Graham Phillips.

Said Mr Shaw: “It’s stated that one of the main purposes of the Gordonbush Fund is to ‘build the sustainability of local communities as vibrant places to live, work and visit.’

“If that’s so, one must ask why our application was rejected at a time when rural broadband is such a high profile issue for both national and Scottish governments.

“If wind farm developers are going to destroy our landscapes and make a fortune, they ought to support rural communities. And what we need is high-speed broadband.”

Mr Shaw said the group planned to re-apply for funding and had also set up a meeting to discuss the issue further with Councillor Phillips.

Councillor Phillips commented: “I’m extremely disappointed by this refusal.

“I have promised to see what I can do to help them reframe their application, and apply again with more supporting evidence. We will return to the fray with, I hope, more success.”

Community Investment Manager at Scottish Hydro, Ross Easton said: “After lengthy discussion the panel felt that while high-speed broadband would be very welcome locally, the solution proposed would only benefit a small number of residents. There was concern that funding this type of project rather than seeking a solution of benefit to the wider community, could not be sustained across the fund area over the long-term.”