A REMOTE Scottish village that campaigned for years to get mobile phone reception was plunged into a total communications blackout – after the landlines were cut off.
Residents of the tiny Ettrick Valley, in the Scottish Borders, says they were unable to contact anyone out with the area for 24 hours after a local phone cable was sliced.
Ironically, Ettrick Valley, with a population of just 100 dwellers, has been campaigning for improved mobile coverage for years – even taking their case to the Scottish Parliament.
BT blamed the loss of power on a “third party” damaging the cable last Thursday.
The communications giant was only alerted to the problem when a neighbouring farmer drove to another nearby valley where he could get mobile phone reception.
The phone line blunder comes just weeks after residents of Bundalloch, West Ross, in the Highlands, were plunged into communication chaos after bungling BT workers crossed phone lines.
BT’s attempt to fix a phone cable damaged by bad weather resulted in phone numbers being mixed up as well as several residents being cut off altogether.
Frustrated callers dialling the numbers of friends and family in the village found themselves routed to other homes in Bundalloch.
Angry residents in Ettrick Valley said it was “sheer luck” that no-one needed to use a landline phone to call in an emergency for the 24-hour period from lunchtime last Thursday onwards.
Local resident, Ogilvie Jackson, said a contractor had cut though a cable at the Ettrick Valley exchange.
He said: “We have no mobile phone coverage in this valley without landline communication, it meant around 100 households were totally cut off.
“It was a very strange feeling to realise that.
“If the weather had been as bad as just a few days previously and there had been an emergency, then we could have had a tragedy on our hands because there would be no way of getting word through.
“There are some very elderly people, some on medication, who now live in the valley.
“And there are a lot of other people who live here who are not indigenous – by that I mean people who are not used to being cut off and completely isolated in the countryside and able to deal with that in the way ‘old timers’ like farmers, forestry workers and others are used to doing.
“BT was only alerted when a neighbouring farmer, Richard Scott, from Cacrabank, drove to the Yarrow Valley where he could get a mobile phone signal.
“This has never happened before and something has to be done about improving the mobile phones link for this area before there is a real catastrophe.
In another ironic twist, two phone masts at the top of the village that are used by the emergency services, could not be accessed by the residents even though they were having an emergency.
Scottish Borders Councillor Vicky Davidson said: “It seems a bit strange that the emergency services can speak to each other but we can’t contact them to alert them to an emergency in the first place.
“There have been huge problems with landlines over the years – not long ago there was a three-week period when people at the top of the valley had no phone link at all.
“This time everyone served by the Ettrick exchange was affected, but oddly, some of us could speak to other people in the valley, but nobody could call anyone outside it.
Cllr Davidson said that council emergency planning officer, Jim Fraser, was scheduled to meet with one mobile phone company in the near future to discuss the issue.
Members of the community have previously taken their case to the Scottish Parliament, where they pushed for better mobile phone coverage for rural parts of Scotland.
She added: “I think the plan is to approach them all and push for better mobile phone coverage.
“There is Government money available, but we are waiting to hear how that will be used.”
A spokeswoman from BT said: “Damage to a cable was caused by a third party, resulting in loss of telephony and broadband services in the Ettrick Valley exchange area on January 31.
“Around 400 lines were affected. Engineers worked through the night to carry out a temporary repair using 30 metres of cable, and restored services by 2am the following morning.
“Permanent repairs are a much bigger task, with around 1350 metres of underground cabling needed.
“Roadworks will be necessary and we need to secure the relevant statutory permissions before these works can take place.”