We all want to win broadband race

Innerleithen is to be congratulated on winning British Telecom’s Race to Infinity and thus getting early installation of high-speed broadband.

It is great that up to 3,000 homes and businesses in the area will be able to enjoy the benefits of modern communication, as reported in TheSouthern last week. But it is invidious that communities are pitted against each other in what is essentially a publicity stunt for BT, not least as this distracts attention from the poor performance that BT provides to most of us.

The real challenge is not for communities to compete against each other, but for BT – the majority provider of the infrastructure – to give us what we currently contract and pay for, and to upgrade the whole network to give everyone access to high-speed broadband.

I have been approached by a number of people who are paying for internet speeds of up to eight megabits per second and typically getting only half that. My own experience is of a service which has deteriorated year by year as more subscribers sign up and load the network – a service which is particularly pathetic when there is high usage in the middle of the day.

For those with a healthy aversion to technobabble, high-speed broadband requires special fibre cabling, and therefore a complete upgrade to the copper cabling running into our homes and businesses. The simple fact is that the new cabling has not been installed fast enough in this country, and a significant part of the problem lies at the door of BT as the major infrastructure provider.

The boast is that in 2012 – as a result of their competition – 3,000 new customers in Innerleithen will have access to a fibre connection (though there is no publicity about the charges for using this).

In 2009 the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) published comparative data for fibre subscriptions across 31 countries. In that year there were only 3,290 fibres subscribers across the whole of the UK. In the same year Japan had over 17 million fibre subscribers – only five of the 31 countries had a worse performance than the UK. In 2010 BT trumpeted that they will install fibre cabling to reach two-thirds of the country by 2015.

When will more than two-thirds of Borderers have access to fast broadband, so that we can all win the race against international competition?

Instead of grandstanding about how wonderful things might become in Innerleithen, when are we all going to get access to high-speed fibre broadband?

A good start would be to give us the speeds which we currently pay for. Well done to Innerleithen, but let’s not get seduced by a publicity stunt.

Stuart Bell

Vine Street