ConCom wireless broadband network to close in March

When the Connected Communities service is turned off HIE will remove equipment from mast sites, like this one in Lickisto, Harris. Photograph: HIE

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It is the end of an era for the Connected Communities network that has been used in medical services, schools, homes and businesses throughout the Outer Hebrides for the last 15 years.

Stretching from the southern island of Barra to the most northerly point of Ness on Lewis, demand has fallen as fibre services have been rolled out.

Owners of the network, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), say the high fixed costs makes the service no longer viable. They are alerting ConCom customers so they can switch to alternative broadband options like fibre or 4G services.

Stuart Robertson, director of digital at HIE, said: ‘Connected Communities has played a vital part in island life for 15 years and switching it off marks the end of an era. It’s helped us run our medical services, our schools, and has linked our people and businesses with the online world.

‘We’ve kept the ConCom network going as long as possible while the publicly funded fibre roll-out has progressed.  Creating ConCom and keeping it going for the past 15 years has been a considerable investment by HIE and our partners that ensured the Outer Hebrides were able to share in the benefits of early broadband.  However, we’ve reached the point where other solutions are now available and it’s no longer viable to subsidise this ageing network from public funds.’

Around 500 ConCom customers remain on the islands and HIE has advice for switching on their website www.hie.co.uk/broadband.

The £146m Digital Scotland project, led in the region by HIE, brought superfast broadband to the Outer Hebrides for the first time.

It included five subsea fibre optic cables linking the islands to each other and the mainland. The longest subsea link was almost 50 miles and was landed at the Braighe near Stornoway in 2014. The first superfast broadband home went live in June 2015.

Today, coverage stretches across 29 telephone exchange areas from Barra to Lewis, bringing superfast to around 80 per cent of homes and businesses.