THREE villages in the Highlands are to receive free gadgets and mobile broadband for a year to help overcome problems accessing fixed-line digital networks..
Durness, dubbed the most north-westerly village on mainland Britain; Melvich, near Thurso; and Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth have been selected by mobile operator 3 to join its Rural Broadband Working Group.
The scheme, which involves the Countryside Alliance, 3 UK, as well as politicians and campaign groups, is designed to tackle rural areas known as “not spots” where access to broadband is poor or nonexistent.
The Three network, which is owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa, will hand out “dongles” and MiFi wireless routers to a community hall, a hotel, a shop, two cafes, six families and local businesspeople.
Kevin Arrowsmith, development officer with Durness Development Group, said: “Internet access is absolutely key to the economic and social wellbeing of Highland communities which are otherwise disadvantaged by their extremely remote location, so the more broadband we get, the better.
“We are incorporating the devices from Three UK into our initiatives aimed at helping individuals, small businesses and community groups. We are a long way off achieving universal access in the Highlands, but this will be invaluable in providing access where landline-based broadband is not available, unaffordable or inadequate.”
The initiative is aimed at areas that don’t have access to fixed line broadband services – using copper or fibre optic cable – but where there is a strong enough mobile signal to deliver data to smartphones, tablets and wireless-enabled PCs.
Hugh Davies, corporate affairs director for 3 and a regular visitor to Durness, said 99.5 per cent of the UK population now has access to a mobile phone signal.
“A lot of people in rural communities just don’t realise they have a good mobile signal with at least one of the networks,” he said.
Next year, Invergordon will also have its mobile infrastructure upgraded so users can access the internet on mobile devices at speeds similar to that which is available to home users of fixed line broadband.
Davies added: “Invergordon will be delighted in January: they will be part of our ultra-fast network which delivers higher speeds in the 3G spectrum.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister, said: “The numerous educational, economic and social benefits brought about by high-speed internet are often slower to come to rural areas such as the Highlands, so initiatives like this are crucial.”