Lochaber is a great place to live, work, and study. However, businesses are finding it increasingly challenging to operate in the ever-growing digital world when, as a region, we still have the poorest broadband in the UK.
A British Infrastructure Group (BIG) survey published in August 2017 found that nearly two thirds (65.6%) of broadband connections fail to reach the government’s proposed minimum standard of 10mbps. There is a long way to go before reaching the Scottish Government’s commitment to delivering 100% superfast broadband access across Scotland by 2021.
Not only are local businesses being disadvantaged by the digital situation, but the hardwork being done by our Destination Marketing Organisation ‘The Outdoor Capital of the UK’ is left potentially devalued. The increasing number of high value tourists visiting Lochaber do not always have their expectations met as those very visitors assume that fast connectivity is a basic feature when travelling to a world-class tourist destination. This frustration is also felt locally with the increasing necessity for tourism businesses to offer online bookings and engage with booking search engines and other digital services. They face a potential disadvantage in not doing so as online booking is so prevalent and requires good digital connectivity to maintain basic business functions.
As an effort to move forward, Fort William was named as one of four Highland areas to benefit from the £4.7m funding secured by Highland Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) as part of a major partnership bid to the UK Government for the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) programme.
As a Chamber, we were delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to Highland Council’s successful bid to the LFFN Challenge fund. This is designed to maximise the availability of gigabit capable broadband services to business and residential users in Fort William and is a positive step towards reducing the digital disadvantage faced by rural business.
The Infill Programme through the Scottish Government, for a £25 million investment in 4G mobile connectivity across rural Scotland, will also make a significant, and positive, difference. Lochaber generally has good 4G connectivity but a Scotland wide investment can further boost business links.
There are still many businesses without sufficient digital connectivity within Lochaber, but these changes are a positive start. An increasing number of SMEs, and some large businesses, are moving into the area making our need for reliable digital connectivity more important than ever to ensure we remain a desirable place to live and work.