It has taken some time for the Hebrides.net service to roll-out across the Western Isles and it is still not complete. It seems the roll-out to the area of Barra is drawing complaints from residents too according to the BBC.
Residents of the Western Isles will be seeing the same television adverts as the rest of us, which trumpet broadband deals for under £10 a month, whereas they are looking at £19.99 a month for a 0.5Mbps connection with 5GB allowance, and each extra GigaByte they want above this will cost £10. A 2Mbps symmetric connection with a 20GB allowance runs to £79.99. In the face of this it is not surprising to see residents complaining and feeling that a BT ADSL based service would work out cheaper for them.
The problem with rolling out an ADSL solution would be those living some distance from the exchange may get no service or it would be intermittent. The Western Isles has 35 telephone exchanges of which some 14 provide a BT Wholesale Max ADSL service, the number may increase once the 21CN network upgrades happen, which could be four years away.
The existing wireless broadband coverage is set to cost £7.6m over its three phases and started as a pilot project in 2002. The progress of the roll-out can be followed on hebrides.net.
Looking to the future the complaints about the costs and types of service available in the Western Isles may be something that re-emerges as parts of the mainland UK see every faster broadband products appearing. The pressure for some form of Broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) will probably grow on BT, but we need to be aware that the dominance of BT is not universal across the UK and any legislation needs to bear this in mind.
Update 13th February 2008: Our original incorrectly stated 21 exchanges without ADSL on the Western Isles, this has been corrected with some 21 out of 35 not offering ADSL. This mix of access on the islands with the wide variation in pricing as well as perceived and actual differences in performance. For a more local view on the situation and comments from residents visit StornowayGazette.co.uk.