Threat To Tiree Sub Sea Fibre Optic Cable Link

                  The adverse effects of this on the island’s economy, which is currently estimated at £5m – £6m per year, would be rapid and debilitating

We were dismayed to learn yesterday that despite the fact that work on the West Coast subsea cable broadband network has already begun, the licence for the cable from Mull to Tiree has not yet been granted. It would appear also that the plan to lay this stretch of cable may now indeed be in jeopardy.  There is no doubt in our minds that the result of a decision to scrap the Tiree cable would result in disastrous and irreversible damage to this island’s social and economic development. It would also create a very real threat to its sustainability, which is already under pressure due to population decline.

This news has caused grave concern amongst the people of Tiree and hence our decision, reached today at a meeting of Tiree community councillors, to convey to you their feelings on what is undoubtedly a crucial matter for the island. This letter has the full support of the Tiree community, including our fishermen*, and has also the unanimous backing of our eight newly – elected councillors, who are listed below.

We are well aware that alternatives to this fibre optic cable link would leave Tiree far short of the speeds and capacity which will be enjoyed soon by other  remote areas.  Effectively, the island would languish in a digital ‘ backwater’, unable to compete on a level playing field with other regions in terms of economic development. It is our view that should Tiree be excluded from the West Coast cable network it would be seriously disadvantaged and would, unquestionably, be consigned to a ‘third world’ position in the new digital age.  There would exist a yawning digital divide and an unjust imbalance between the island and the rest of the county which would be detrimental to Tiree in almost every aspect of social and economic life.

The adverse effects of this on the island’s economy, which is currently estimated at £5m – £6m per year, would be rapid and debilitating. There is every possibility that local entrepreneurs would migrate to areas with faster, more sophisticated digital connections and it would be virtually impossible for the island to replace such people.

Distance learning facilities both in our school and for under-graduates and post-graduates would be hampered by the continued sluggish transfer of data and would certainly impair the life chances of young Tiree people eager to study, learn, stay on the island and contribute to its community.

The island’s tourist industry, on which a large number of livelihoods depend, would be put at serious risk. Many visitors to Tiree are persistently dismayed at our dismal broadband speeds and the frustrating unreliability of the service and should a future Tiree fare less well than other islands in the digital stakes, many of these people may choose to holiday elsewhere. High speed internet connectivity is as much a part of leisure now as a fish supper or a sandy beach.

Granted, the island is a community in crisis with a declining number of souls, but it is not some isolated wasteland content to be ignored. Tiree has much potential and would make very good use of high speed broadband.  The island is host to a substantial number of highly talented, computer competent and skilled people for whom high speed digital connectivity would open up a host of opportunities. These people are perfectly capable of bringing to the island healthy economic benefits which they are simply unable to develop at the moment.  However, were Tiree to be denied the fibre optic cable, the number of economically inactive people may increase and digitally dependent businesses will move away.

Finally, in the event that Tiree was denied a high speed broadband system, we would be concerned about the future of our air services.  As you will be aware, data transfers in airline information and security matters becomes more complex by the day. A high speed broadband delivery will ensure future information capacity is secured along with passenger safety. Tiree has six flights per week from Glasgow, with seven in the summer months. It also receives another four flights per week from Oban.  Currently, the Glasgow service is so busy that it is almost impossible to find a seat a week to ten days ahead.  It is surely inconceivable that busy air links such as these should continue to depend upon an unreliable ‘slow lane’ broadband service.


We know that this failure to grant the subsea licence to the Tiree fibre optic cable is rooted in an ongoing dispute involving a small interest group of fisherman operating outwith our region.  We are as aware as others of the economic pressures on the fishing industry. However, we are confident that the Scottish Government will recognise that in the balance between, on the one hand, some occasional inconvenience to a few dredger vessels and, on the other, the economic and social development of an entire Inner Hebridean island, the scales ought to weigh decisively in favour of the latter.

Should, however, the decision go against the Tiree fibre optic cable, we fully anticipate that the island community would feel it had no option but to fight, with whatever means it is able, to overturn such a decision and regain its right to enter the high speed digital age along with other rural and island communities on Scotland’s west coast.



*The spokesman for the fishermen on the Isle of Tiree is MR NEIL MACPHAIL. He may be contacted on 01879 220675


This letter was sent to: Alex Paterson, CEO of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Mike Neilson, Scottish Government director responsible for the subsea digital network at Marine Scotland, Malcolm Rose of Marine Scotland, Mike Russell, MSP, Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment, John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism and Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minster and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities.





MALCOLM ROSE, Marine Scotland, who is dealing with the cablelicence.




FKB/Z305 BT TSO: Subsea Cable Installation, Tiree to Mull


Thank you for your letter dated July 29th 2014 in support of the the application for subsea cable installation.  I spoke to Ian Gillies on July 28th and explained that Marine Scotland Licensing Operations Team (MS-LOT) have an open application from BT for this cable.  There has been an objection from some fishing interests due to the lack of burial on the route and the potential safety hazards caused by this.  MS-LOT asked BT to review their survey data to see if a better route could be found with more burial.I have just spoken to BT who have told me they are currently finalising the details of their new route with their survey company and they will be providing it to MS-LOT for us to review within the next week or so.  BT also assured me that providing MS-LOT are able to make a determination and issue a marine licence it is still their intention to lay this cable.  They have adjusted their schedule for all the cable laying operations to have this route laid last to allow the maximum amount of time for resolving the issues with this application.MS-LOT are happy to include Mr Neil MacPhail in consultation on this new route when BT submit it to us.  No decision on the granting or refusing of this licence has been made yet and won’t be until this process is complete.  If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.






I would be grateful if you could inform your fellow community councillors, and the wider community, that I am in entire agreement regarding the absolute necessity of securing the cable link to Tiree.


I am very keen to ensure that high speed broadband reaches the whole of my constituency and am working to secure that aim, both to places like Tiree  that have received a commitment from BT / HIE within the current project and to others ( like my own home community in Glendaruel ) that are presently without any such commitment.

I have therefore copied your letter to the Deputy First Minister who has responsibility for infrastructure and to Richard Lochhead , because of the fishing issue.   I will let you know when I get a response.


Regards as ever




Thank you for your letter. I will pass this on to the relevant Minister in the Scottish Government who will be able to respond to your concerns. I appreciate the seriousness of the issues you raise.


Thank you for writing to me.


Yours sincerely

John Swinney

MSP for Perthshire North


HIE is as keen as you are for the cable to be completed this year as planned. We fully appreciate the benefits that improved broadband can bring to the island.


BT is working closely with fishing interests and Marine Scotland to identify the best possible route for the cable. As soon as a mutually acceptable route is agreed and a marine licence issued, BT intends to lay the cable as part of the current laying programme.






  • Norman MacArthur

    I am delighted to see that our new Community Council has sprung quickly into action on this issue. The possibility of this cable not being laid is potentially disastrous for the economic future of Tiree for as we all know, and as this announcement/letter makes clear, the potential of IT type jobs would all but disappear if we are left with our current broadband speeds. Also, more and more of our lives are being taken over by ‘cyberspace’ from Joe Bloggs at home on his computer to corporate giants. There seems to be ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ when we read the follow up replies, and we will have to keep the pressure up on all parties in order to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible, but well done and good luck to all councillors on your activity on this task.

  • Ronnie Somerville

    I think the point about “distance learning for schoolchildren” is most pertinent.
    To my mind this has the potential to solve the “education problem” that has been discussed in the pages of An Tirisdeach.
    To not be able to take advantage of this opportunity would be severely detrimental to the long term future of the island.

    R Somerville

  • On the education point it should be noted that the school does currently have facilities for distance learning, including video conferencing, and the current connection speed is adequate for them (to the best of my knowledge). That’s not to say that upgrades will not be needed as technology progresses (and there is a great need for improved speed outwith the school), but I don’t think the connection speed is a limiting factor for distance learning at present. The fact remains that distance learning is rarely as effective as in-person teaching.

  • Ronnie Somerville

    “The fact remains that distance learning is rarely as effective as in-person teaching.”

    I could not disagree more.

    Look at this link describing how a Stanford University offered an online version of the course that he taught and was shocked by the results:

    “The first online course Thrun offered at Stanford gave him plenty of personal lessons. He was shocked by the dizzying popularity of the online course, but even more surprised as the students attending the actual Stanford lecture dwindled from 200 in-person attendees to just 20 or 30 students.
    “These are students who pay $30,000 a year to Stanford to see the best and brightest of our professors, and they prefer to see us on video?” Thrun recalled in his Digital Life Design presentation. “This was a big shock to us.”
    Apparently even the Stanford students preferred watching the classroom lectures as online videos on their own time. Thrun and Peter Norvig, director of Google Research and a Stanford colleague at the time, spent hours creating such videos with nothing more than a camera, pen and napkin, and quizzed students through online software.”

    IMHO Distance Learning offers the opportunity to transform the educational experience on Tiree.

  • Ronnie Somerville


    Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom

    “A recent 93-page report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, has a starchy academic title, but a most intriguing conclusion: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

  • Unfortunately both those pieces of research refer primarily to university level teaching, which is generally delivered by means of a lecture when taught in person. This could not be more different from the situation in a school classroom. Certainly for a lecture it matters little whether the lecturer is in the room or on video, and there will be benefits to being able to study at your own pace, pause the lecture, rewind etc. In the context of Tiree High School that’s not the comparison we’re talking about. Distance learning has been tried for a number of subjects, particularly French, and has not been very successful, despite good facilities and excellent teaching provided by committed staff off-island.

  • Ronnie Somerville

    Interesting. Were the pupils able to access resources at their leisure?

    Actually I don’t think they have to be able to get this from the “designated supplier” of the distance learning.
    There is so much teaching available on the web, on YouTube in particular, that any interested student can do remarkably well without physical teachers.

    If you are wondering, go to YouTube and put in the search term “osmosis”.
    If you don’t know or can’t remember what it means then you will after watching a few of the videos.
    The ones at the top of the list are there because their explanatory power has been vouched for by thousands of other students.

  • Direct teaching (i.e. lecturing) is only part of the teaching process. The key phrase is probably “interested student”. Most young people don’t have the self-discipline required to assemble a series of youtube lessons into a coherent body of knowledge about a subject without supervision and support. It is a rare student indeed who would maintain the same degree and intensity of learning without the assistance of a knowledgeable and trained professional on hand.

    There are a lot of excellent online resources available, but they are not a substitute for direct interaction with a competent teacher, they are an adjunct. Also, having spent much of the day reviewing such videos for use in Physics, many contain misleading information or reinforce misconceptions (like the one that claimed that an object in orbit was held there by two forces, without making an reference to one of those forces only existing in a non-inertial frame of reference).

    Incidentally, if my recollection of GCSE Biology serves me, osmosis is the transfer of liquid molecules through a semi-permeable membrane, responding to a difference in the concentration of the solutions either side of the membrane. It is used in the body to regulate the concentration of different minerals in cells, and is part of the reason it is necessary to replace electrolytes as well as water after an illness.

  • Ronnie Somerville

    “Most young people don’t have the self-discipline required to assemble a series of youtube lessons into a coherent body of knowledge about a subject without supervision and support. ”

    I think this is just plain wrong.

    Why not pose it as a challenge to the Tiree students?

    On more general terms I am always perplexed that children in their first 5 or 6 years are able to teach themselves a vast panoply of skills, cognitive, social and motor ,( see for an exhaustive list.)

    Suddenly they are deemed to be incapable of learning anything without “the assistance of a knowledgeable and trained professional”.

    In their early twenties this state of incapacity is deemed to have ended and their employers and co-workers expect them to be able to learn by themselves again.

    Children of school age DO teach themselves things by themselves, some very complicated things, but there are as far as I know no GCSE’s in Minecraft, World of Warfare or advanced iPhone skills.

    Re Osmosis, my challenge was to readers generally not to “you” personally 🙂

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