Broadband connection speed a priority for rural areas

RESIDENTS in Berwickshire are hoping that a pledge from Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MSP that rural communities will no longer be left in 'the broadband slow lane' will lead to a much needed increase in their connection speeds.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 16th June 2010, 4:17 pm

Computer users in a number of villages including Abbey St Bathans, Longformacus and Whitsome have been battling for the past few years to get improved internet access and things are slowly heading in the right direction.

Abbey St Bathans recently received an upgrade to its exchange, allowing more residents to access the internet, and Longformacus was one of 29 exchanges upgraded to full platform ADSL, meaning customers should be able to benefit from broadband speeds of up to 8 Mbps (megabits per second).

However, despite the increase in capacity at Abbey St Bathans, the best connection speed users can hope for is still only 512 kbps (kilobits per second).

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Owner of the village's Riverside Restaurant, Karen Parkinson, had been without internet access for a number of years but thanks to the upgrade to the local exchange she can finally log on.

But like many other residents she isn't happy with the below par speed of her connection.

Following Jeremy Hunt's announcement of the 300 million government investment to bridge the broadband divide between urban and rural areas, Karen was interviewed by ITV's 'Lookaround' and said their campaign wasn't over yet.

Speaking to 'The Berwickshire News' earlier this week, Karen commented: "Jeremy Hunt said that the minimum speed people should expect to have is 2mbps and we still aren't anywhere near that.

"At best we can expect around 0.5mbps and it's important that we continue to push for a better service.

"I think the problem lies with the old phone lines we have but rural communities shouldn't be ignored. The government say they don't want there to be a divide but the fact is that there still is a massive one.

"We get leaflets through our doors advertising packages offering unlimited access however, the fact is that we would be paying the same as someone in a city but they would be getting much better access."

A meeting was held in Abbey St Bathans on Tusday night and along with locals and residents from adjoining communities, John Lamont, MSP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire was expected to be in attendance.

Commenting on the Government's broadband announcement last week he said: "I am very pleased that the new government is committed to improving broadband access in rural areas.

"It is important that government does not allow a "digital divide" to open up between the facilities available to residents in urban and rural areas and this announcement shows that the new coalition is determined not to leave rural areas like the Borders in the broadband slow lane.

"With more and more services these days being reliant on a fast and reliable internet connection, broadband is becoming increasingly important in our society.

"It is shocking that three million households in the UK cannot access broadband.

"However, many people in the Borders will not be surprised at this figure, given that many of our communities have experienced this problem first hand.

"Residents in Roberton, Whitsome and Abbey St Bathans – amongst others – know exactly how frustrating it is to be denied broadband access. This is great news for these communities and many others across the country. I am delighted that the new Government has recognised the importance of this issue."

The money needed to support the roll-out of superfast broadband will come from the cancellation of the Independently Funded News Consortia (IFNC) pilot projects for regional TV.

Commenting, Berwickshire MP Michael Moore said: "Local people and businesses regularly raise the issue of broadband services, and it is clear that improving broadband services is crucial for jobs and services in rural areas like the Borders.

"This announcement is good news for areas such as the Borders and highlights the coalition Government's commitment to securing a digital revolution throughout the whole country."