Borderers’ need for speed on internet yet to be met, but progress promised

Tweedbank Primary School pupils Sam McBarron, left, and Charlie Burns, both 10, at the DSSB event.
Tweedbank Primary School pupils Sam McBarron, left, and Charlie Burns, both 10, at the DSSB event.

Almost a fifth of Borderers are still waiting for their need for speed while using the internet to be met.

Nationwide, all but one in 20 households and businesses are said to have access to superfast broadband, but in the Borders the proportion of folk still waiting to get up to speed is more than 17%, almost one in five.

A meeting of Scottish Borders Council’s executive on Tuesday heard that the £428m Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme (DSSB), launched in 2014 to extend efficient internet access nationwide, is still falling well short of its target here.

Figures provided by DSSB in September showed that new service provision had been enabled for just 82.7% of premises here, 31,800 in total.

It is now aiming to get just short of 95% of properties here hooked up by the end of the year, the same percentage the rest of the country is said to have reached already.

The aim after that, thanks a new £600m Scottish Government-funded programme called Reaching 100%, is to deliver superfast broadband access for every property in the country by the end of 2021.

Kelso and district councillor Tom Weatherston told this week’s meeting: “The biggest issue in rural communities is the lack of a timescale. People really want to know when they will get it, and I think they feel left in the dark. The more information we can give rural communities about the timescale of this the better.”

Bryan McGrath, the council’s chief economic development officer, told councillors: “Digital connectivity is critical to the economic development and competitiveness of the Borders.

“Scottish Borders Council has contributed significantly to the rollout of the Scottish Government’s DSSB programme, spending £8.4m over two years to help extend the rollout as far as possible in the Borders.

“Although progress is being made in delivering the DSSB programme, there remain a number of challenging issues to be addressed in relation to providing superfast broadband services across the Borders.

“One of the key issues is that although a home or business may be connected to the new fibre-enabled technology, if they are located too far from the cabinet or exchange, then it is likely that there will be no improvement in their broadband service.”

A further 12% of Borders premises are expected to get up to speed by the end of 2018, with the remaining 5% to follow by three years after that, though, and DSSB staged an event at Tweedbank railway station, also on Tuesday, to mark the progress it has made so far and aspires to build on over the next four years.

Representatives of the DSSB team were joined at the station by Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the council’s executive member for business and economic development, and pupils from nearby Tweedbank Primary School to celebrate increased fibre availability along the Borders Railway route.

“In just over two years, the Borders Railway has had a significant positive impact on the area, and we are dedicated to maximising the economic impacts of the route,” said Mr Rowley.

“The availability of superfast broadband along the Borders Railway corridor is vital to businesses who may be looking to establish themselves here or people wanting to move and utilise the railway for business and pleasure.

“The DSSB programme is increasingly delivering vital broadband infrastructure to more communities across the Borders.

“We do, however, recognise that not all Borders residents will benefit from this programme, or still face slow speeds, and we continue to work hard with a range of partners, pushing them hard to improve digital connectivity for residents and businesses across the region.”

Alyson Weir, headteacher at Tweedbank Primary, said: “It was fantastic to see our pupils involved in helping to celebrate the latest fibre broadband across the Scottish Borders.

“It was a great opportunity for them to see the amount of hard work that’s involved in connecting up communities.”

DSSB programme director Sara Budge added: “It is fantastic to see fibre broadband benefiting local residents and businesses along the length of the Borders Railway route.

“I would like to thank Mark Rowley and senior pupils from Tweedbank Primary School for joining us to celebrate that fact that, together with Borders Railway, we are making Scotland more connected.”