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‘It’s devastating’: Island community says jobs, school, medical practice and emergency services affected by ongoing broadband issues

Internet issues are affecting people and businesses in Uig
Internet issues are affecting people and businesses in Uig

An island community is “grinding to a halt” due to ongoing issues with 4G broadband access affecting key services and businesses.

Residents in Uig in Lewis say slow and intermittent internet access is impacting their medical practice, school, shop, emergency services and day-to-day living.

Remote workers are travelling miles to seek a signal and some fear they could lose their jobs as they can’t be online when needed.

Some residents have no means of contacting emergency services from their homes.

And in some areas volunteer firefighters and coastguards can’t get mobile or, in some cases, emergency pager callout signals.

There are also concerns for the long-term sustainability of the fragile community of around 400 as the lack of reliable broadband may force people to leave and discourage others moving to the area.

No signal for a month

Island MSP Alasdair Allan, who held a meeting with angry residents on Monday, plans to raise the issue with the Scottish Government.

He has also invited the CEO of EE to Uig to hear directly about the disruption.

Residents, who largely rely on the mobile network for broadband, access have suffered issues for some time.

In 2018, the area had no signal for a month.

Last year there was no signal for more than two weeks while EE awaited a part to repair the mast.

There was a further delay when engineers struggled to get booked onto the ferry during peak season.

Connectivity issues could have a long-term impact on Uig

The latest issue arose last month and has prevented businesses accessing the internet and people streaming or downloading content, and even making voice calls over wi-fi.

Problems reported also include –

  • The Langabhat Medical Practice being unable to use phone lines or access patient records online
  • Dispensing medicine is proving impossible as staff cannot check health records or print labels
  • Patients have to pick up prescriptions from another centre at Leurbost – a 50 mile round trip for most most Uig patients
  • The primary school not having access to online teaching support and additional support needs materials
  • Fire station unable to access some of IT services
  • Home workers queuing in lay-bys, where there is a signal, in order to get online

Workers at risk of losing jobs

Mr Allan said: “The ongoing situation in Uig is completely unacceptable.

“The local community is now in its second month of unreliable mobile signal and 4G, affecting local businesses, home workers and vital local services.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that a number of people are now at risk of losing their jobs as a direct result of these problems, with some seriously considering relocating altogether if the area’s 4G signal issues are not urgently rectified.

“I have invited the CEO of EE to come to Uig and hear directly from residents about how detrimental the impact of this disruption is on an already fragile community.”

Dickon Green (second left) and staff at Uig smoked salmon

Mr Allan believes there is “clearly a lack of resilience” in EE’s local infrastructure.

He says while repairs have been attempted, “conflicting and infrequent updates” from EE have been frustrating.

He argues reliable connectivity has never been more important.

“Vital services and local businesses cannot properly function without phone signal and internet access for weeks on end.

“I will continue to do all I can to drive home to EE the severity of the impact outages like this on communities like Uig, as well as raising this issue at government level.”

School, medical practice and businesses among those affected

A spokeswoman for Langabhat Medical Practice said it is offering services, but the ongoing EE issues are impacting both its phone line and internet access.

A Western Isles Council spokesman also confirmed the primary school is affected.

“As with the rest of the Uig community, the school relies on mobile broadband via the EE mast for communications and access to networks and servers.

“The mast outage has caused problems with the school being able to access electronic comms, digital phones, and online files and resources.

“The school retains an analogue phone as back-up which they have been using in this case.”

MSP Alasdair Allan is seeking a meeting with the CEO of EE

Dickon Green runs Uig Lodge and the Uig Sands Restaurant, as well as a smoked salmon business in the area.

He said: “Without the internet we can’t access our orders database, customer details, order history, delivery addresses etc.

“We can’t enter orders onto our system and we are unable to process and print Royal Mail postage labels.

“We also can’t take payments, can’t track deliveries, can’t access our website, so pretty much all our admin comes to a halt.

‘It’s bringing everything to a grinding halt’

“The situation is affecting everyone really – businesses, the school, surgery, shop and other key services.

“It’s fairly chaotic. It’s bringing everything to a grinding halt.

“This has been going on for years. They need to make sure there is a resilient network and some back-up system in place.”

Tony Wade, who runs a B&B in Uig, said the latest problem began on October 13.

“Since then we’ve either had no signal or effectively a worthless signal.

“It’s critical because the infrastructure that keeps the community alive – the school, the doctors surgery, shop, fire service etc – are all significantly affected. It’s pretty devastating.

“This has been going on for years. It’s like death by a thousand cuts.

Tony Wade says the lack of connectivity is devastating for the community

“4G is now legacy technology in many ways. It’s now 11 years old and they should have ironed out any issues surrounding installation, maintenance and operation by now.”

Mr Wade said he had to drive 12 miles to find a signal to read his emails. Other workers visit friends or relatives to get internet access.

“This isn’t about people watching Netflix and TikTok, although some young people in the community will be devastated they can’t do those things.

“This is about the integral parts that keep a community alive.

“If you live in Stornoway or Inverness and the mast goes down, you can probably walk a few hundred metres and pick up a signal. We don’t have that luxury.”

‘It’s devastating for us’

He said while a high-speed connection was planned this year, it was delayed by the pandemic and is now not due until 2028.

“It’s devastating for us. All it takes is a few families to get fed up and move away.

“The pandemic created opportunities for places like this because people discovered remote working might be possible.

Angry residents attended a meeting with Alasdair Allan to discuss the mast problems

“A reliable connection could have been an incentive for people to move to places like Uig which has all the attractions of beauty, space and community.

“But without a reliable connection no one is going to look twice at it.”

An EE spokeswoman said: “We are aware of an ongoing issue in Uig relating to EE mobile signal. Following bad weather, engineers are on site and we are sorry for any inconvenience caused while we continue to try to resolve this complex repair.”

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