Joining forces for better broadband in rural areas

AFTER sending a petition to government last year year, the residents of Abbey St Bathans are hitting the campaign trail once again in a bid to gain improved internet access for the village.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 23rd June 2010, 11:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2010, 11:57 am

But this time they are hoping to join forces with other local communities to drag them out of the broadband blackspot.

Abbey St Bathans, Grantshouse, Longformacus and Whitsome have all received upgrades to their internet access thanks to a deal being struck between the Scottish Government and BT to improve access in a number of Scottish communities.

However, despite upgrades to exchange capacity in some cases and connection speeds in others, residents still aren't satisfied with the service they are receiving and held a meeting on Tuesday, June 15 to decide their next move.

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Richard Sweetman from Scottish Borders Council attended along with Stuart Glendenning from Scot Net and Abbey St Bathans resident Karen Parkinson, who organised the previous petition, said she was confident in roads had been made but acknowledged that in order to get their desired outcome, Berwickshire communities needed to combine their efforts and maybe even link with residents in the central Borders.

She commented: "The meeting was a great opportunity for us to come together as a community and discuss exactly what we need to do to take this issue forward.

"There was a sense at the meeting that we need to be realistic in what we expect BT to do for our village, but we are also clear that we need to present our case strongly.

"Stuart had looked at the old phone lines we have at the moment and said that these coupled with the village's geographical situation with its deep dips and valleys, put us at a big disadvantage.

"We will now go away and carry out some research on the number of exchanges in the Borders which are up to standard and also the potential cost of upgrading our exchange to a suitable standard.

"Only when we know these two things will we be in a position to begin looking at funding sources and the next stage of the process.

"We have been told that this is more of an issue for the UK government and an area could be targeted for a possible pilot scheme. If this is the case it would be necessary for the Borders to join together."

In his e-mail to Karen Parkinson, Ian Shanks, Head of Scottish Affairs for BT said: "Telecoms is not a devolved issue. The Scottish Government could however invest money (subject to EU competition rules) in upgrading the network if they for example felt that faster broadband speeds were essential for businesses in Scotland –perhaps surprisingly there is currently no available evidence to support the broadband business need.

"However the Scottish Government are just about to carry out a survey which might provide that evidence and once they have the results I guess they will decide what action if any to take."

Local MSP John Lamont was present at last Tuesday's meeting and said: "I was pleased to be able to attend this meeting and continue to be impressed at the determination of the community to find a solution to this problem. They accept that there is no easy solution given their rural location but clearly a lot of thought has gone into ways to address the problem.

"Residents and businesses in Abbey St Bathans need to make their case firmly to BT and other relevant organisations. However, it is clear that there are many other communities with a similar problem across the Borders and a joined up approach needs to be taken.

"To ensure the strongest possible case is made, it is important for rural communities across the Borders and the wider South of Scotland to come together as a powerful lobbying group for our area."