INNERLEITHEN is celebrating a broadband victory after being named as one of six UK towns to win a super-fast internet connection.
The three-month long campaign culminated on Hogmanay when voting closed and the Peeblesshire town and surrounding villages were announced as one of BT’s Race to Infinity winners on Monday.
Innerleithen was the only Scottish success story, tabling 1,959 out of 360,000 votes made across the UK
But the result was in jeopardy in the closing week as 278 vital votes were deemed to be invalid and wiped off the total.
The loss saw the Innerleithen campaign crash from second to sixth place.
Cardrona resident Brian McCrow, who headed the race to gain fibre-optic broadband, said: “It just about knocked us out. I was shouting and screaming at BT, but Brendan Dick (director of BT Scotland) phoned me up at half seven on a Friday night and was very supportive.
“Once we calmed down, it actually gave us a great boost because the news spread like wildfire in the community and instead of people’s heads going down, they picked themselves up and said ‘We are going to win’.
“It did us a favour and showed the power of the community.”
Expecting widespread cynicism, Mr McCrow admits he was “astounded” by the response of St Ronanites to his project.
“I thought I would get the typical Scottish reaction of ‘Aye right son, it will never happen to us’ but interest just accelerated,” he said.
“We had to battle the cold, standing on the street in minus 10 trying to get people to vote.
“A big help was Switched on Sunday. We had people queuing out the door to vote in four Innerleithen shops and we picked up hundreds of votes. I was overwhelmed.
“There were people saying they don’t even have a computer but would vote just to help the community.”
The advantage of superfast broadband, which is expected to be operational early next year, are apparent, according to Mr McCrow, also a member of Innerleithen and District Community Council.
He told TheSouthern: “The average internet speed in Cardrona at the moment is half a megabit. With the superfast broadband it will be 80 times faster, while it will be 10 times faster for people in Innerleithen with 3 megabytes.
“A local man told me recently he had lost out on an item on eBay because his internet speed was so slow.
“Superfast broadband will mean we can watch television on the computer or download 3D movies.
“In the future, older people will be able to have their health monitored by a doctor over broadband and kids will be able to take part in distance learning.”
While Mr McCrow thanked those who voted, politicians and councillors queued up to praise the campaign.
Tweeddale MP David Mundell said: “This is great news for Innerleithen, Cardrona, Traquair, and the Glen – and the result of a tremendous effort by everybody in the area to ensure the highest possible number of people voted to deliver world-class broadband services to our local exchange ahead of nearly every other community in the whole of the UK of more than 1,000 people.
“It was a fantastic achievement and is a real example of community spirit in action by all those who worked so hard to make sure Innerleithen topped the poll.”
Tweeddale East councillor Gavin Logan added: “This is an absolute triumph for Innerleithen and a great example of the big society working.
“It will be particularly welcome in Cardrona, which has suffered serious problems with broadband speeds and now has the prospect of a solution.”
Fellow Tweeddale East councillor Graham Garvie told us: “It is an outstanding achievement and great news for Innerleithen, which has had to suffer the demise of its mills. The whole town has worked together to make this happen.”
Innerleithen is also entered into another BT competition to claim £5,000 of computer equipment for a community project.