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Living and The Communication Rage

Cocking hell

Am I allowed to say that? 

I probably should have artfully arranged asterisks over the worst offending consonants like fig leaves over a pair of nipples, but you know how it is.  What with the internet these days we’ve all become desensitized; numb to the flickering images pouring non-stop into our brains courtesy of the information highway, the worldwide web, the internet.  

What used to be considered shocking now elicits nothing more than a considered pause before we go ahead and share it on Facebook anyway, so me putting asterisks over a couple of letters in the word ‘cocking’ is like bolting the stable door once the horse has been photographed in a compromising position with reader’s wife, Ann Shandy, 74, click to subscribe. 

Unless, of course, unless …

… you live in an area of the Borders like me where internet porn takes the form of an old issue of Penthouse some fisherman has hooked out of the Tweed. 

Michael Moore – MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and Scottish Secretary of State (and a Lib Dem to boot, but the least said, soonest mended) – has been a vociferous campaigner to get broadband to the rural areas of our community since 2008. 

Back then he got terribly excited by news that BT would be rolling out ‘superfast’ fibre-based broadband to ten million homes in the UK by 2012.  BT Chief Exec, Ian Livingston, stated that this would benefit “urban and rural areas alike.”

But, c’mon.  More urban, right?  Just say it, we can take it.  We’re built of stern stuff here in the rural Borders.

This £1.5 billion investment in fibre-optics would provide speeds of up to 100 Mbps!  100 Mbps – imagine that!

In urban areas, right?  Towns n’shit?

Fast-forward to December 2010 and Mr Moore is welcoming Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s announcement of an £830 million investment in broadband which will “benefit communities across the Borders.”

What d’you reckon?  Urban communities?  And wait a minute, hang on.  The Con-Dem Government, in their post-election after-glow, pledged to work towards universal access to broadband of at least … oh, 2 Mbps by … oh, 2015.

Oh, indeed.  No 100 Mbps by 2012 for us, then.  But two, 2 Mbps would be nice …  by 2015 …

I’m not alone with my frustration at the lack of internet availability, or my disgust with BT.  My mum always told me to finish a job properly before starting on another one; clearly not something Ian Livingston’s ma saw fit to tell her wee bairn.

Here am I, in the twenty-first century, lucky if I can make a phone call on a landline so full of pops and wheezes that it sounds steam-driven.  No wonder it can’t accommodate even the idea of internet.   The problem, BT informs me, lies with me living “too far from the exchange.” 

Six miles to be precise. 

Six miles, along the A698 – Coldstream at one end, Berwick-upon-Tweed at the other.  It’s not as if we’re talking uninhabited tundra; there are no inconveniences such as mountains in the way, or bears.  The route isn’t impassable eleven months out of twelve.  There’s even tarmac. 

Can you imagine if BT had been in charge of laying the transatlantic telegraph cable back in the nineteenth century?  There would have been a huddle of BT engineers in boiler suits on the shore of Foilhommerum Bay all sucking their teeth and going, “No feckin way.  That’s far too feckin tricky, so it is.” 

And that would be that; global communication smothered in its cot.

The argument of the internet being a luxury item is dead in the water.  People in rural areas – not just the Borders – are being excluded both economically and socially from fully participating in what is now everyday life.  Web access is an essential, like electricity or … er, jaffa cakes.  The internet provides access to healthcare, job opportunities, financial services, education, friends, family and, vitally, keeps us all in the cultural loop.

From the perspective of someone living in a rural community, it feels as if there’s a whole digital party going on and, yes, everyone’s invited … provided you make your own way there.   

I’m fortunate in having an internet connection, of sorts, via satellite – a very expensive way to achieve minimal connectivity.  Sometimes I feel that I would get better and more reliable download speeds if I covered my boobs in tinfoil and pointed them at the sky.  But there is no other choice for people who work from home, or who run businesses away from main centres of commerce.   

Wouldn’t it be nice if our MPs – Messrs Moore, Lamont, Beith et al – instead of praising BT for their ‘commitment’ and ‘pledges’ actually said in no uncertain terms, “Wheesht, Livingston!  Haud yer blether and get yer finger oot.  If you leave it much longer there willnae be anybody left living in the Borders.  They would’ve all gan tae live in urban communities.  Towns n’shite, y’ken?”

Financially, for the likes of BT it doesn’t make sense to provide a service in low population areas such as the Borders.

Morally, however – ethically – they should finish the job they started.

As I say, cocking hell.

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