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Community internet firm nets salmon farmers’ support 

26/01/2023
©ScottishSeaFarms Wireless broadband antenna

HEBNET, a community interest company that delivers superfast broadband to some of Scotland’s most isolated communities, has secured funding from salmon producers to support further improvements in connectivity.

Operating in Elgol, the Small Isles and Knoydart, HebNet reaches parts of the Highlands and Islands that large providers don’t cover, helping connect homes and businesses to the internet.

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For fish farmers, the provision has been crucial, ensuring that remote feeding and monitoring systems have high-speed, high-capacity connection to their shore bases, whilst also improving employee safety.

Local residents, meanwhile, have been able to access popular streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as work from home, with fast broadband that is on a par with central Scotland’s.

To continue the fibre optic upgrades, as well as maintain current connections, HebNet decided to invest in a boat in 2021, cutting journey times on the road and reducing reliance on public ferries.

The 5.5m RIB has proved a valuable asset but now needs repairs to maintain reliability, so HebNet applied to salmon farmers Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms for help with meeting the costs.

‘The areas we operate in are very challenging,’ said HebNet Director Ian Bolas, who is based on Rum in the Small Isles. ‘At the moment, we’re putting fibre optic in new locations, including Elgol on Skye and Canna. But one of the biggest challenges we’ve had is getting to these places, often at short notice.’

The RIB has already made a difference, said Bolas, but in order to ‘future-proof’ the vessel, HebNet has received a total of £8,500 from Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms, helping ensure the continued delivery of lifeline broadband delivery to far-flung locations. 

Stewart Tonks, ICT Manager at Mowi Scotland, which has farms in the Small Isles and Skye, as well as along the west coast, said: ‘Having a secure high-speed network at our workplace is important for employee safety, allowing our farmers to properly care for their fish from remote feeding centres during inclement weather. 

‘The network is now also vital for other working families and businesses in the rural areas where we farm, so we are pleased to provide this additional assistance to HebNet to help ensure delivery of reliable service to all.’

Scottish Sea Farms, which worked with HebNet previously to install superfast broadband in Knoydart and Loch Nevis, would not be able to operate the high-tech equipment on its feed barges without the internet connectivity, said IT Operations and Infrastructure Leader Colin Kupris.

‘If it wasn’t for HebNet, we would have great difficulty providing connectivity to the farms in Loch Nevis because it’s a very challenging area – 15 to 30 minutes’ commute by sea – with no other internet or mobile phone coverage.

‘As well as facilitating daily data updates and generally keeping in touch with the outside world, the service enables remote feeding and monitoring, which ensures fish are fed as and when needed, whatever the weather conditions.’

Designed to be affordable and fast enough for people to go about their day-to-day lives, the HebNet service was initially set up to fill in the gaps left by BT and other big providers, said Bolas.

‘Today, there’s no digital divide between, say, a croft house on Eigg and a townhouse in Glasgow – we all take the internet service a little bit for granted out here.’

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