West Burrafirth, with nine households (around 31 individuals), is a small community on the west side of Shetland.
Due to reliance on phone lines, and because of the distance from the telephone exchange, their internet speeds were very slow (around 160Kb per second). One of the local business people, John White, said that he would often have to travel to an office in Lerwick (a round trip of more than 50 miles) to download email attachments or internet content because the speed was so slow.
The people of West Burrafirth realised that without broadband their community was struggling to remain viable, young folk wanted to move away and businesses were finding it hard to survive. The national telecoms companies did not see this small settlement as a priority to upgrade and the community decided to take matters into their own hands.
A focus group was formed and the community secured Awards for All Lottery funding*. Shetland Telecom and Shetland Broadband worked closely with the community to help design and build a scheme which provided a wireless link, operating through radio-transmitting antennae and receivers located on masts in Lerwick and West Burrafirth. This connects the community to the fibre optic cable which links Shetland with Faroe and the Scottish Mainland. The residents of West Burrafirth were very hands on, installing the mast and small boxes on the side of their houses themselves, to wirelessly connect to the local network. And according to John “it just worked” and has “revolutionised business and been the salvation of West Burrafirth”. He also went on to say that house builds are being planned in the area, which wouldn’t have been considered before.
The project has resulted in download speeds of up to 25Mb per second, and almost as importantly good upload speeds, the fastest in Shetland. Robbie Walterson, another West Burrafirth resident, is currently studying a Higher National Certificate in music and hopes to eventually become self employed in the music industry, and work from home if possible. Robbie can now stream High Definition videos to assist him improve his musical techniques, and he can download and upload content which would have been impossible before. His family of younger siblings are also able to use the internet, like any other modern household, for both educational and recreational purposes, as well as modern communication via social media and by using Skype or Facetime, perhaps even more important when living in a very remote setting.
John said “without both Shetland Telecom and Shetland Broadband this couldn’t have happened. This scheme could easily be replicated elsewhere”. Robbie also said that the project has “definitely been worth the effort and has helped bring the Community together”
*Funding can now potentially be accessed from Community Broadband Scotland (up to 100% for initial community engagement and scoping, and up to 89% of capital costs should the project go ahead)
23 May 2016. The team at Shetland Telecom were saddened to hear the news that John has recently passed away. We would like to express our sincere condolences to his family and friends, and know that he will be sorely missed by the West Burrafirth Community.