Broadband campaign finally pays off for Abbey St Bathans

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THE residents of Abbey St Bathans finally got the news they’ve been waiting for on Monday when the Scottish Governent announced that the village’s below par broadband connection would be upgraded.

And after surfing the net at speeds which at best reached 0.5mbps, by the end of next month, computers users will be able to take advantage of speeds of up to 8mbps, once their exchange has been upgraded to a full platform ADSL.

The ball first got rolling on Abbey St Bathans’s long-running campaign back in 2009 when, fed up of being stuck in a broadband blackspot, residents formed a broadband group and started a petition to bring the matter to the attention of the Government.

They received the backing of Berwickshire & Roxburgh MSP, John Lamont, but despite an increase to the capacity of their local exchange last year, a sub-standard broadband speed still made for a frustrating experience every time villagers connected to the internet.

Things that other people took for granted like catching up with their favourite TV shows on line, downloading attachments, sending emails and ordering their shopping required the patience of a saint so now everyone involved with the campaign is hoping the upgrade will finally put an end to their broadband misery.

None more so than David Dalgety, who as a website designer, relies heavily on the internet for his business.

He commented: “For those of us working on the web with rich content this welcome announcement from BT on the Abbey St Bathans exchange upgrade could not have come soon enough. We are delighted! A big thank-you to all involved - especially John Lamont MSP, Charlotte Dobie, Karen Parkinson and the wider community who were 100 per cent behind the campaign for faster broadband.

“There is lots more lobbying to do by getting all of the region upgraded to next generation superfast broadband plus wider mobile broadband coverage in the coming years so we are not left so far behind again. In the meantime some areas still have dire broadband speeds. That has to come to an end so we have a level playing field and a chance for all in the region to benefit from the economic regeneration benefits.”

As well as starting up their own petition, the residents of Abbey St Bathans showed their commitment to the cause by becoming the first community in the whole of the UK to reach the 100 per cent mark in BT’s Race to Infinity.

The scheme encouraged towns and villages who weren’t happy with their broadband service to compete to win superfast broadband for their area.

It didn’t take Abbey St Bathans long to achieve a full quota of sign ups but owing to the fact that the village’s population fell below the minimum requirement they were deemed ineligible.

However, they wanted some recognition for their efforts and now as well as a substantial upgrade they have also been singled out for praise from BT, with director of BT Scotland, Bredan Dick, commenting: “I’d like to pay tribute to the people of Abbey St Bathans in particular for their long-running camapign to improve their broadband status.

“We hope they will feel that this is a step in the right direction.”

One person who is hoping it’s exactly that is cafe owner Karen Parkinson and like David, she said she felt it was important that the rest of the Borders wasn’t forgotten about.

“We’re all just keeping our fingers crossed that we’re going to get what we’ve been campaigning for for a long time,” she said. “For me personally it’ll be fantastic, I’ll be able to get Riverside Cafe online and I should finally be able to watch TV at home!

“Even though we have got the upgrade we’ve worked hard to get, this has to be a much bigger picture and there’s a much bigger fight to improve things for all of the Borders.

“We need to shout and we need to shout loud. I’ve already said to BT that if the upgrade doesn’t improve things significantly we will be back in touch.”

BT and the Scottish Government have been working together since 2005 on the Broadband for Scotland initiative, which was launched to take first-generation broadband into Scotland’s smallest communities where commercial investment alone was not viable.

And John Lamont MSP said that he hoped that Abbey St Bathans’s upgrade, coupled with a Government pledge to bring all of the UK up to speed, would stop rural areas like the Borders from being left behind.

He commented: “This is great news for residents in Abbey St Bathans as they will now have the benefit of faster broadband services. There is no doubt that this decision is a result of the strong local campaign to improve broadband in the village. All those who organised the petition, attended meetings and were involved in the campaign deserve congratulations.

“I have received letters and emails from residents in communities across the Borders who cannot get any broadband service or their existing service is too slow. In this day and age, it is crucial that everyone is able to access good quality, high-speed broadband services. This is great news for Abbey St Bathans and I am determined that other communities in the Borders should not be left behind.

“No community, regardless of size or population should have to suffer from low quality internet services – especially when it is such a vital tool for communication and for business. I am hopeful that other communities will benefit from the recent announcement by the UK Government that every community in the UK will gain access to super-fast broadband by 2015. This demonstrates the UK Government’s commitment to providing high speed internet to all communities, not just those in the big cities.”