Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Friday, 31 July 2009 16:03 UK

Review ordered of isles broadband

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An Ofcom survey found broadband speeds were slow

A publicly funded roll-out of wireless broadband on the Western Isles is under review to check that it is "fit for purpose", one of its backers has said.

Opponents of Connected Communities (ConCom) have raised concerns about its reliability in the European Parliament.

This week, an Ofcom survey suggested UK broadband users were not getting the speeds they were paying for.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) said its review was a result of several factors and ConCom was progressing.

More than 90 schools, council offices, health centres and medical practices, along with 1,400 individuals and businesses, use ConCom.

An HIE spokeswoman said among the factors behind the review was that the roll-out of transmission masts for the service was nearing completion.

Another factor was the release of Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, which looked at broadband speeds, internet regulation and public service broadcasting.

There are many challenges in the delivery of broadband in remote areas
Archie Macdonald

One of his key recommendations was that everyone should have access to broadband by 2012.

The HIE spokeswoman said the service should already meet the Megabit per second (Mbps) speeds recommended by Lord Carter.

Costing more than £7m, the project aims to deliver broadband speeds about 10-times faster than a 56k modem.

HIE, Western Isles council Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and NHS Western Isles are involved in ConCom.

Archie Macdonald, area manager at HIE, said: "It is appropriate that we assess the long-term opportunities with our partners Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar and NHS Western Isles, building on the proposals of Lord Carter's Digital Britain report which aims to deliver 2Mbps to everyone by 2012."

He added: "There are many challenges in the delivery of broadband in remote areas.

"A prime example of the kinds of solutions we have found is the connection of customers in Rhenigidale in Harris, using a combination of wireless technology and optical fibre."

Mr Macdonald said it was vital to review the process so far and ensure the best model for services, businesses and residents on the islands had been created.

He said existing customers will not be affected by the review and new subscribers could continue to register for the service.

A survey by telecoms regulator Ofcom suggested almost one fifth of UK broadband customers on an 8Mbps connection actually receive less than 2Mbps, it found.

The research showed that less than 9% of users received more than 6Mbps.

However, the report showed that average connection speed across the UK was 4.1Mbps, up from 3.6Mbps in January.

Campaigning against

In April, claims that ConCom was unreliable were raised in the European Parliament in Brussels.

The roll-out has met with opposition in Northbay on Barra.

Barra postman Neil MacNeil, who has been campaigning against ConCom, told members of the parliament's petitions committee that the service relied on transmission masts and this means of connecting to broadband was not suited to hilly Barra.

Last October, Rhenigidale became the latest to get broadband access through ConCom, 19 years after it was first connected to the main road.

MEPs said they would write to the Scottish Government about the concerns.

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