Community Internet firm nets salmon farmers’ support

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Salmon farmers Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms are supporting a community enterprise that aims to bring high-speed broadband to some of Scotland’s most isolated communities.

The farmers are helping to fund community interest company HebNet which provides broadband coverage to parts of the Highlands and Islands that large providers do not cover.

HebNet operates in Elgol on the Isle of Skye, the Small Isles (Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna) and the Knoydart Peninsula, a remote part of the Scottish mainland.

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 (rigid inflatable boat) has proved a valuable asset but now needs repairs to maintain reliability, so HebNet applied to Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms for help with meeting the costs.

The Internet access provided by HebNet has been invaluable to the aquaculture operators, ensuring that remote feeding and monitoring systems have high-speed, high-capacity connection to their shore bases, while also improving employee safety.

Local residents have also 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.

“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, he added, but in order to “future-proof” the vessel, HebNet has received a total of £8,500 from Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms.

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, according to IT Operations and Infrastructure Leader Colin Kupris.

He said: “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.”

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.”

Wireless broadband antenna, Scottish Sea Farms

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