Operating in Elgol, Small Isles and Knoydart, HebNet reaches parts of the Highlands and Islands not covered by major providers, helping to connect homes and businesses to the internet.
For fish farmers, the provision has been critical in ensuring that remote feeding and monitoring systems have high-speed, high-capacity connectivity to their land bases, while improving worker safety.
Local residents, meanwhile, have been able to access popular streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, as well as work from home with fast broadband on par with central Scotland.
In order to continue the fiber optic upgrades as well as maintain the current connections, HebNet decided to invest in a boat in 2021, reducing the travel time on the road and reducing the dependence on public ferries.
The 5.5m RIB has proven to be a valuable asset but now needs repairs to maintain reliability, so HebNet approached salmon farmers Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms to help cover the costs.
“The areas we operate in are very challenging,” said HebNet director Ian Bolas, who is based in Rum in the Small Islands. “We are currently laying fiber optics in new locations, including Elgol on Skye and Canna. But one of the biggest challenges we have had is getting to these locations, often at short notice.”
The RIB has already made a difference, Bolas said, but to “future-proof” the vessel, HebNet has received a total of £8,500 from Mowi and Scottish Sea Farms, helping to ensure the continued provision of lifeline broadband delivery to remote locations .
Stewart Tonks, ICT manager at Mowi Scotland, which has farms on the Small Isles and Skye as well as along the west coast, said: “Having a secure high-speed network in our workplace is important for staff safety, allowing our farmers to look after their fish from remote feeding centers in bad weather.
“The network is now also vital to other working families and businesses in the rural areas where we farm, so we are delighted to provide this extra assistance to HebNet to help ensure the delivery of a reliable service to all.”
Scottish Sea Farms, which previously worked with HebNet 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 connection, IT operations and infrastructure manager Colin Kupris said.
“If it wasn’t for HebNet we would have a very difficult time connecting to the farms in Loch Nevis because it is 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 that fish are fed as needed, regardless of weather conditions.”
Designed to be affordable and fast enough for people to work in their daily lives, the HebNet service was originally set up to fill the gaps left by BT and other major providers, Bolas said.
“Today there is no digital divide between, say, a house on Eigg and a terraced house in Glasgow – we all take internet service a little bit for granted out here.”