More woes for rural areas over telecommunications

The issue of sub-standard telecommunication services in the more rural parts of the islands has once again come to the fore, with several complaints being levelled at provider EE for their failure to properly address the issue.

Thursday, 21st October 2021, 7:20 am
Castlebay will not have its mobile signal restored until the New Year

Residents and businesses in both Barra and in Uig, Lewis, have repeatedly raised concerns over a lack of service over recent weeks and months.

Peripheral areas of the islands, including some Uig villages, have been excluded from the government rollout of the superfast broadband programme and now face lengthy waits to have an equitable service to the rest of the country and their island counterparts.

However, through a contract to EE for the emergency services, it was a requirement to have 4G covering all main roads. On the back of that, a broadband service was offered by the company for those communities that missed out.

While initially it served to plug the gap, it has now been beset by problems.

Uig businessman Richard Davies said: “For eighteen months it worked well within the signal limits and then the gremlins started.

" We all accept that things break and there can be problems to deal with, but just like with other services, chronic issues are not acceptable given modern expectations and government promises.

“Three masts in Uig seem prone to outages of up to two months at a time, being patched up with makeshift parts from decommissioned masts elsewhere that only handle basic SMS and calls.

" The whole of 2021 has seen week long outages and reducing speeds to the point where, as I type, we are at 0.1mb/s, which renders calls and email servers incapable of most basic functionality.”

He added: “What has started to infuriate the community, apart from the unreliability, is the different stories and different times for repair given to each of us when we call or message EE. My last call to them took 28 minutes to be answered and then the signal dropped and I had to start the process again.

" That call ended up being 52 minutes and I was told the engineers were repairing the mast a full week ago and they have still not visited.”

Meanwhile, in Barra they have been without a basic mobile phone reception for long periods, prompting a community campaign on Facebook and complaints to MP Angus MacNeil, a Barra resident.

EE have advised that a full service will be restored to the island in the New Year.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is obviously very disappointing news from EE. They say they are actively progressing a resolution to the ongoing service issues.

“I have asked EE to clarify why there is such a lengthy delay in getting the necessary equipment and I await a response.”

An EE spokesperson said: “We’re aware that parts of the islands, including Uig and Castlebay, have experienced a reduced mobile service recently.

" We’re very sorry for the recent problems and our engineers are working hard to get things up and running as soon as possible.

"We have restored some services and further work will be carried out over the coming days to improve this further. We’ll also be working to improve the resilience of these sites over the longer term.”