A rural group frustrated by broadband speeds in their area has set up a ‘remote office’ in a cow field and invited the man responsible for connectivity to work from it.
Angry residents of Finderne have set up a desk complete with a phone and computer for Paul Wheelhouse, the Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to see for himself the problems they face.
Pery Zakeri is the Development Manager of the Finderne Development Trust, which has been tirelessly working to bring fast broadband to Finderne since June 2019. The group is angry about Scottish Government delays in providing vouchers to help Scots improve their web access.
She said: “Working from a desk in a field in the heart of our rural community will soon let Mr Wheelhouse get a taste of the everyday reality for those trying to run a business or home school kids in this part of the world.
Leaving the area
“We’ve even seen people forced to leave the area because they can’t continue with university studies while living in their family homes because the connectivity is so bad.
“There are days when you’d be more successful getting a usable connection by trying to plug your phone or computer into a turnip, or maybe a passing cow. It’s the same story for remote and rural communities across the north of Scotland.
“What we want to show him is that you can have everything you need for a workplace or home office – but in 2021 it’s pretty much worthless without a functioning broadband connection.”
Families and businesses covered by the Finderne Development Trust have faced years of frustration with internet connection speeds, worsened by the pressures of the Coronavirus lockdowns.
Initially they attempted to pursue a Community Fibre Partnership and pinned their hopes on getting superfast fibre connections for the 498 properties in the area. However, those dreams were dashed when the door was slammed shut by Openreach in mid-December.
Now the community has all of its hopes pinned on Mr Wheelhouse’s flagship R100 – Reaching 100% programme, which promises to deliver 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) to every home and business in Scotland by the end of 2021.
However, the R100 programme has been hit by a series of delays and, as Finderne residents have been told that it could take between 4-5 years to be delivered, the community claims the Government has fumbled the rollout of interim support vouchers.
The Trust claims those £400 vouchers would help families and businesses pay for short term solutions to help them achieve faster connectivity until R100 is delivered. For most, that would simply mean offsetting the cost of slightly faster mobile connections.
But the interim vouchers will not be made available until delivery of R100 begins later this year – meaning further agonising delays for Finderne and other affected communities across Scotland.
Pery added: “Why we are so angry at the moment is that we’ve been in discussions with Mr Wheelhouse, via our local MSP, Richard Lochhead, and among our requests for help and information, we asked if it might be possible to reverse this ridiculous policy.
“After waiting months for his response, we finally received what amounted to a patronising lecture about the history of the R100 programme – something we are very aware of having undertaken considerable research into broadband.
“And he didn’t respond to us at all on the issue of the interim voucher scheme, which has infuriated everyone. It really was the only point we wanted to hear from him on, as it is the best option to financially help and support people and businesses in the North of Scotland to improve their broadband connection, without affecting their inclusion in the R100 roll out plans.
“If Mr Wheelhouse cares to take up our ‘remote working’ challenge for a day, he’ll soon understand the same levels of disappointment that he’s left us feeling in our community and no doubt many similar remote and rural communities across Scotland.”
Finderne is an outstandingly beautiful part of rural Scotland covering a number of villages and small communities including Rafford, Dunphail and Edinkillie. The area is renowned for farming, forestry and salmon fishing along the River Findhorn.
In the picture are Pery Zakeri, development manager at the Finderne Development Trust and board member, local resident and businesswoman Jo Laing