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Opposition growing to wireless service on the Western Isles
Tuesday 12 February 2008 13:10:39 by Andrew Ferguson

It has taken some time for the 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

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


Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
There are places on the mainland that would rejoice if they could get a 0.5M connection *at all* let alone for £20 per month, so the islanders need to keep a perspective and enjoy the benefit of their state funded system.
Posted by zenops over 9 years ago
They had some amazing fibre onto that Island when I lived and worked there but like everything unless subsidised the cost to the Islanders is expensive - where else can they go? Precisely!

Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
I have to agree with herdwick, if you choose to live somewhere as remote as the people concerned do they cant expect BT or anyone else to start handing out services willy nilly. Maybe the ungrateful so and sos dont realise how much it is costing just to get a tiny minority hooked up. They may as well be on another planet. You cant have it both ways... live away from the more technological and crowded world but expect all the luxerys they have.... Maybe i will build a cabin on the moon and demand British Gas hook me up see i can cook dinner :-$
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
OMG ive just defended BT arghhh how did that happen?? (Oh and please no jokes about wishing i did live on the moon they aint creative or clever).
Posted by rizla over 9 years ago
Andrew, your article has factual errors which is hardly surprising if you used the BBC article as source. There are MANY exchanges in the Western Isles which have ADSL (OLO NSBRV & NSSHA for example). The exchanges which haven't been ADSL enabled are ones where Connected Communities have a presence. BT haven't missed these exchanges out because of location or technical reasons either IMHO. THAT is why people are complaining.....
Posted by zenops over 9 years ago
Stornoway is far from being away from the technological world. In fact when I arrived on the Island they had the UK's only CISCO training Academy and many of those computer Science students went on to work for a number of "mainland" ISP's and still do today ;-)
Some of the best BB engineers I've worked with that's for certain.

Posted by hellsbells over 9 years ago
Rizla - can you tell us if it isn't technical reasons, or location what is the reason? Would they get a service if these exchanges were enabled and would it be faster than the service on offer via connected communities???

Posted by rizla over 9 years ago
Connected Communities (CC) was dreamt up in the days when BT were running a demand-led rollout and less than a thousand exchanges were enabled. It was a reasonable idea back then but is a white elephant now.

My personal opinion is that BT were warned off those exchanges for a few years as public money paid for CC.

In most cases users in ADSL-enabled villages are within 2km (line length)of the exchange and many get full-rate ADSL Max.
Posted by rizla over 9 years ago
Just to add that I believe the BBC article is originally derived/sourced from this one, which also details some of the other service "issues":
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
I'll vouch for Rizla here - most of the Western Isles has ADSL, including some areas which Connected Communities has yet to reach (eg South Lochs). In some areas BT is constrained from upgrading as Connected Communities is state/EU funded and so there is a potential legal quagmire over competition and state aids. Connected Communities began when BT was showing no intention of upgrading anything and can be seen as highly succesful in having provoked that change, less so in terms of its stated deliverables.
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
And to answer Hellsbells other questions:

"Would they get a service if these exchanges were enabled?" Yes in the vast majority of cases

"Wouuld it be faster than the service on offer via connected communities???" CC's off-island link is being upgraded so hard to tell, but the experiences of those in remoter parts of the network suggest that contention and traffic management is a major problem.
Posted by Guzzo over 9 years ago
Why cant they use two tin cans and a piece of string?
You have to pay some price for living in a nice peaceful, fairly safe crime free drug free area don't you?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
I'll add an update in the morning, to reflect the scattering of ADSL enabled exchanges
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
Andrew - the figure of 21 exchanges unscheduled for upgrade is however correct.

Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"You have to pay some price for living in a nice peaceful, fairly safe crime free drug free area don't you?"

I have to agree, its a case of wanting all the nice benefits but not wanting the bad, i think given the outlay for the income it will generate they should be grateful BT have even bothered.. As said i dont defend the likes of BT that often but in this case they deserve it. Even if each person there got a full 8Mb tomorrow they would still whine and complain and then expect LLU ADSL2+, Virgin cable or whatever also.
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
"Even if each person there got a full 8Mb tomorrow they would still whine and complain and then expect LLU ADSL2+, Virgin cable or whatever also."

I live there, I don't think so - perhaps says something about you CB. Don't be so gratuitously offensive - I'll put up with my ADSL varying from 400k to 2Mb, and occasionally disappearing when the weather gets really rough.
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
The complaints are coming from people who can't get bog standard ADSL like mine because Connected Communities is meant to provide. It's way late, and too prone to failure, and too expensive. OK it is symmetric, but wtf needs that?
Posted by hellsbells over 9 years ago
So the complaints are coming in because the service is too prone to failure, interesting, I wonder if they invested in it whether it would be more fail proof? Wonder if some of the ADSL about could be added into the network to give some redundancy? Do the users have any say in the network management? I know of plenty of people on ADSL Max who have long lines that only achieve half a meg and pay above £20. I wonder if the unreliablity were sorted people would be happier to pay for the service.
Posted by zenops over 9 years ago
The Islanders only want what the majority of people on the mainland wants - fast broadband and as cheap as possible. Why should the Islands be different from the rest of Britain?The Islanders should not be held back from the rest of the broadband community especially when the exchanges are enabled and can provide BB to many. It makes you wonder at times how an Island with experts like Dr Neil Finlayson manage to do so much innovative work on the net.

Posted by hellsbells over 9 years ago
BT had its chance so with pressure CC sprung up and heavily invested in an alternative method. Many community networks built their own systems they created the demand,only to find BT sitting in the wings, and then of course so many went down the tubes cos they found it so hard to compete. Good thing or a bad thing? However community broadband wasn't looked on as competiton, most never had state funding. Some networks, took advantage of ADSL coming along, we used multiple feeds into the network, and through our subscriptions invested in the network, but then that's social enterprise for you!
Posted by hellsbells over 9 years ago
It's not just Islanders Zenops, a survey was undertaken by the CBN, and found many "notspots" littered all over the UK, some in surprisingly urban areas. I know of 2 villages near me that are still in the dark ages despite a 30M investment in alternative infrastructure.
Posted by Clearsky2 over 9 years ago
A big "notspot" is Cornwall. Despite having most of the UK's transatlantic fibres running through the county, typical exchange speeds are typically around 1 meg, point blank to the exchange. Go out by a mile and this sinks to a blistering 512K.

The Government should FORCE BT Wholesale to charge other ISPs LESS for using lower speed exchanges - a saving that goes direct to the consumer, and not just into the pockets of Tiscali, to name just one ISP, for example.
Posted by zenops over 9 years ago
Posted by hellsbells about 4 hours ago
It's not just Islanders Zenops

Oh I know that hellsbells I was merely talking Islanders in the context of the thread being about the Western Isles ;-)

Posted by kenster over 9 years ago
Posted by CARPETBURN 6 days ago
"I have to agree with herdwick, if you choose to live somewhere as remote as the people concerned do they cant..."

Can I just point out that people don't just pore over a map of the UK and 'choose' a place to live. If you are born there and generations of your family have been there then you are there already and you should not be discriminated against just because you happen to be in a remote area. Cultural and family roots are very strong in the Western Isles and people can't be expected to move to get something like broadband.
Posted by Baroncrawford over 9 years ago
I live on the wesstern Isles and have had no problems with my bb except when the wind is high and the storms come in.
Carpetburn you moan far to much on things you know F.A about as the western isles have 2 call centres here (Talktalk and consumer direct). The islands have some of the brightest sudents in the country.(40 to 60% of 18 year old go on to further education or university)The Islands are not backward thinking as they want the same as the mainland. Connected Communities does a very good job with the restrictions and funds it has. my upload and downloads are both at 2mb constantly
Posted by kenster over 9 years ago
The issues are not as simple as Carpetburn makes out. Islanders are not ungrateful. Issues include the unreliability of ConCom,(can be down for days) and the lack of either Concom or BT broadband in many areas. But islanders are used to ignorant people spouting off nonsense about them.
Posted by Baroncrawford over 9 years ago
Some usful facts about the western isles:-
1. 45 miles off the north west coast of scotland. 2 population about 20,000 (majority in the town of Stornoway)3. total lenth of the island chain from port of ness in the north of the island to Barra in the south is about 150 miles.Ofcoarse this is not just a problem for the likes of BT and CC.Microwave or radio Broadband works on line of sight and we have lots of mountains and peat bogs so this makes it a logistical nightmare as some communities are very remote and can have as few as say 5 houses that are occupied.
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
Minor correction to Baroncrawford: population is about 25000, about 7000 of whom live in Stornoway. You'd be very lucky to be getting 2Mb constantly as contention on internet traffic is a real problem - hence CC changing its backhaul provider imminently... would you believe to BT?

Lots of mountains? No.
Posted by kenster over 9 years ago
Harris and the south of Lewis is very mountainous and there are mountains > 2000ft in South Uist and large hills/mountains elswhere. The point is I think, there are enough mountains to create problems for line of sight microwave technology, as ConCom use.
Posted by pushkin over 9 years ago
>2000ft? No. Clisham is 499m, thats the highest. Line of sight is a problem but limited. All the telcos use microwave here. They dont all have same dependency on an ineffective power source.
Posted by kenster over 8 years ago
I think you must be getting your feet and metres mixed up...amongst other things. Mor and Hecla in South Uist are both over 600m, which is around 2000ft, and the the highest mountain, the Clisham in Harris is 799m, which is around 2600ft.
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