Rural Scottish village broadband network among fastest in UK

Volunteers in Balquhidder dug trenches to lay fibre optic cable for the the community's broadband network
Volunteers in Balquhidder dug trenches to lay fibre optic cable for the the community's broadband network
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It is a beautiful yet remote enclave, where the price of living in one of Scotland’s great wildernesses has long been an internet connection so sluggish that local hoteliers were unable to process bookings and fledgling companies were forced to relocate.

But now, after years of trailing one step behind the rest of the country’s online footprint, villagers in the Stirling bolthole of Balquhidder are celebrating the launch of their own community broadband network.

The initiative, years in the making, means that its modest population will be among only a handful of places in the UK to enjoy speeds of 1Gbps.

Those behind the scheme say it will prevent a brain drain of talent from the village and save ordinary households money each month.

Nestled at the foothills of the Braes of Balquhidder as they sweep down to meet the head of Loch Voil, the community has just under 200 households and a cluster of businesses.

Nearly all have been impacted by lamentable, sometimes non-existent internet connections and sporadic mobile phone receptions, problems which gave rise to a campaign for greater internet access being launched more than a decade ago.

But rather than waiting for a telecommuniations giant to help them, the villagers decided to take mattrs into their own hands, with local volunteers digging a network of trenches some 22 miles long to lay fibre cable across in the glens.

With the connection now up and running, those who have spearheaded the intiative say its impact will be life changing.

Richard Harris, a director of Balquhidder Community Broadband, a community interest company, pointed to his own experience running his consultancy firm.

“Balquhidder, like much of rural Scotland, offers a high quality of life in an active community in stunning surroundings, and, like all those areas, its economic development and resilience have been crippled by the lack of effective communications,” he explained.

“I’ve spent eleven years in efforts that have led to this project, during which time I’ve twice had to move growing companies out of Scotland because of poor communications.

I now run an international AI and augmented reality company, for which a reliable, high-speed internet connection is vital. Without this network we would soon have had to move out of the area altogether. With it, we can now do the opposite: start to attract more skilled individuals and other companies into the area.”

Working in partnership with Stirling Council and internet service provider, Bogons, Balquhidder Community Broadband will deliver hyper-fast, future proof and community owned broadband to all 197 premises in the area.

Funded in part by an initial £100,000 investment from Stirling Council and a similar investment from its commercial partner, with rural development funding from the Scottish LEADER programme, the project is expected to generate millions of pounds for the local economy.