Colton Superfast Broadband Why it's important and how we can get it......Mike Postle (mike@mpo1.uk)

Top Down – for the moment

I’ve held off for a long time before updating this blog waiting for some clarity as to how we might get gigabit capable connections into all our Parish. Well we are a (little) bit clearer now:

 

Cumbria will be part of the Project Gigabit Project with between £60m and £102m earmarked to provide full fibre to 66,300 premises. Assuming the procurement process for a regional supplier is successful, there is an August 2022 start date and delivery can be expected early/mid 2023. The maximum potential funding per premise is projected at £1,538. A list of addresses to be included in the contract is expected sometime in December.

 

So where does this leave us? We can speculate that the addresses to be covered by this contract will be concentrated on areas of greater population density where it is easier and cheaper to develop a full fibre network than in our more spread-out rural area but we may be lucky… .What we do know is that no premises in Cumbria are now eligible for funding through the (more generous) voucher scheme until the addresses have been finalised. So those folks who have put in a lot of work in the Rusland area to get their Broadband upgraded with vouchers via B4RN will have yet another delay.

 

If the procurement timetable holds, there will be some news at the end of the year although B4RN takes a more pessimistic view saying that an August date is more likely.    

Top Down or Bottom Up?

Let’s start with the bad news: Although the current voucher scheme ends on 31st March, DCMS has told providers that they need to get their voucher requests in to them by 19th February – so the current voucher programme is not now available for the three schemes in the Parish. It was always going to be tight timing anyway with the current quotations from Openreach for each scheme well above that potential grant value. So as far as ‘bottom up’ goes, we’ll have to wait to see what the new voucher scheme will look like. The first bit of good news here is that all parts of our parish are in ‘OFCOM area 3’ – the hardest to reach - and are eligible for future voucher support. Meanwhile work can continue working with Openreach to see if cost savings can be made.
 
Openreach of course is not the only infrastructure provider but it is by far the largest and it provides a public network for other providers to use. However, B4RN is interested in developing its private network though the voucher scheme and this option is being explored. 
 
So what about the ‘top down’ approach of the Government agency (BDUK) directly contracting infrastructure providers to build in defined procurement areas?  Here Cumbria is being used as a pioneer with BDUK consulting on where public investment may be needed to provide Gigabit capable (usually meaning fibre to the premises -  FTTP). The consultation is now open for public responses until 9th March. This will determine the areas for Government intervention, i.e. areas where hitherto there’s been no interested Infrastructure provider.  The hope is that the first contracts will be awarded before the end of this year. What’s not known is how much interest there will be for providers such as Openreach to bid for these subsidised contracts – but that will become clearer in the next few months.
 
Looking at our Parish, the map and postcode list in the consultation document indicate unsurprisingly that there is currently no supplier interest in building Gigabit networks here (so called ‘white’ areas) so it looks as if we would fall within an area of intervention. If you are interested the link to the consultation paper can be found on UK Gigabit Programme: Cumbria Public Review
 
   

New Year Update

First of all, looking at the National scene: DCMS have issued a consultation paper ‘Planning for Gigabit Delivery in 2021’. In it, there are proposals to divide the UK into a series of procurement areas with the aim of encouraging infrastructure providers to bid for delivery in each area. Cumbria looks likely to consist of a numbers of small procurement areas which may well include a proportion of overbuilding existing facilities to ensure coverage in the not spots. What’s not clear is how costly or profitable these areas will be: it’s quite likely that no provider will want to bid for many of the Cumbria procurement areas. You can read all about it in the DCMS press release here or find the full version here in pdf format. Away from this top down model, the current community based voucher scheme is likely to continue in some form beyond the end of this financial year with £250m of funding earmarked - subject to treasury approval.
 
So, if you are wanting Gigabit capable connections there is a choice – wait & see if a provider will come along and build one for you or try to use the voucher funding that is currently available – with Digital Borderlands grant top up if currently receiving less that 30 Mbps download speed. My money is to try to use what we know is available now.....although I know it is not proving easy.   
 
 
    

And Now….

The extraordinary events of this year have underlined the truth of what I wrote in my first posting in June 2013: “Whether you use the internet at home, for your business or are not yet connected, the latest developments in spreading access to superfast broadband …  will have a profound effect on how all of us live and work….”

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Wishing you a Happy, Peaceful and above all a Safe Christmas and all the best for 2021.    

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…..And in Colton Parish?

Well first of all, fibre to the premises (FTTP) connections have mysteriously sprung up in parts of Nibthwaite. How or why this happy event has happened remains a mystery but Openreach moves in a mysterious way sometimes….

 

In Oxen Park, Bouth and Rusland three folks who live in those areas have put in a lot of hard work ascertaining the degree of local support for upgrading the existing Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) networks to FTTP (Oxen Park, Bouth) and replacing very slow ADSL connections with a FTTP (Rusland, small area of Bouth). In each case, a list of interested premises has gone to Openreach to be costed.

 

Only one costing has come back so far – Bouth – with Openreach adding a large number of properties to the original list, including obvious outliers, and coming up with an unrealistic costing. Work is on-going to look at a more realistic project scope and costing. The Openreach log jam referred to in the earlier post not conducive to the speedy development of these projects.

 

So what of the Government’s Broadband Upgrade registrations of interest referred to in my September posting? Some alternative suppliers have shown an interest in serving our part of the world. The problem of looking at alternatives to Openreach is assessing how viable and future-proof the projects which would result from these overtures really are. Perhaps the front runner here as a possible alternative is B4RN which has an extensive network in the South-East of the County and North Lancashire. But it’s not a quick fix as there is no B4RN infrastructure in the immediate area. Meanwhile, it’s worth persevering with trying to develop viable projects via Openreach: it’s great to have an FTTP network here in Colton!!  

Update: The National Scene

The previous 100% Gigabit (pure fibre) target by 2025 was always going to be a big (impossible?) ask. Following the recent spending review, this has been scaled back to ‘aiming for’ 85% coverage while only allocating £1.2bn of the promised £5bn before 2025.

 

The good news amongst this for those in ‘not spots’ is that BDUK, which controls the allocation of public funds for developing the network, is saying it will aim to target its Gigabit roll-out to properties with less than 30 Mbps speed. The current prediction is that by 2025 there’ll be about 75% Gigabit coverage nationally but this may well be higher depending on how BDUK performs.

 

The current Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme closes to new applicants on the 31st March 2021 so the log jam in the costing department of Openreach is causing some concern as some projects may not be agreed before this deadline. There is almost certainly going to be a successor voucher scheme announced but it’s not known if it will be as generous as the one currently operating.

Less than a month to register

Looking at the Government’s Broadband Upgrade Fund website (https://broadband-upgrade-fund.campaign.gov.uk/), I see that there have been some registrations of interest with 2 registrations in Bandrake Head, 5 in Bouth and 2 in the Rusland area so far recorded.

 

If you are at all interested in upgrading your current service to Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) – whether it be overbuilding your current Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or your very slow ADSL connection, then it would be worthwhile registering now before the deadline at the end of this month.

There’s absolutely no commitment at this stage and it may just inform Openreach (which realistically is the only supplier in the area) where to build next.

If you are able to register as a business, all the better as businesses potentially can generate more grant funding. It’s worth noting that the definition of a business is far wider than just those which have a company registration. A sole trader – full or part time – can qualify & of course farms also qualify.  The DCMS guidance says:  

“Vouchers may only be used for eligible connections at premises from which you actively trade. This may be your registered office and/or trading address.......”

 

Registration on this web site and waiting for something to happen may be an option but it’s also preferable to gather likeminded neighbours and register their details directly with Openreach’s Community Fibre Team. I’m happy to assist any local coordinators to see this process through to its ultrafast (FTTP) conclusion….

Meeting virtually

As I indicated in my last post, I feel a meeting coming on! This one mainly targeted at anyone in the Bouth or Oxen Park areas where overbuilding is a possibility and, in a few cases, where FTTC hasn’t reached in those areas. The sort of things, I think might be helpful to address are:
*Why think of overbuilding?
*Network supplier(s).
*What grants are potentially available and what are the conditions for obtaining them?
*How to aggregate demand to produce a viable project.
*Next steps.
I’ll start with a brief presentation and then go on to try to answer any questions which come up.
 
The Zoom meeting will start at 7 pm on Monday 10th August and anyone from Colton Parish can join by emailing me in advance (mike@mpo1.uk) and letting me know from what part of the Parish they come. I’ll then send a link to them. 

Aggregating Demand

One of the challenges in getting any project off the ground is getting enough people interested. The Government has recently come up with a registration process (https://broadband-upgrade-fund.campaign.gov.uk/about) designed to help this and increase take up in the three rural areas covered by the Broadband Upgrade Fund: part of its Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme. Cumbria is one of the areas which qualifies for these Rural Gigabit Connectivity Vouchers.
 
So should you register? possibly – but it’s no substitute for local community action in generating the enthusiasm and drive to get the project done. My hunch is that it will not result in economically viable close geographical groupings. Also although the steps described on the site give the impression that there are a number of Broadband suppliers queuing up to build a full fibre network, in practice in our area, the only game in town is Openreach.
 
My pitch is that to get a viable project off the ground will require word of mouth and local community action. Then, in our case, to deal directly with Openreach by registering under their Community Fibre Partnership scheme. This is the route we have gone down in Colton and it’s now been made easier as I’ve described in earlier posts.
 
Under normal circumstances, I’d see a meeting coming on over coffee (or whatever tipple takes your fancy) and biscuits. This isn’t viable at the moment but if anyone is interested – particularly in Bouth and Oxen Park – where overbuilding is a possibility, I’ll host a short Zoom meeting 7 pm Monday 10th August. I’ll cover the steps necessary to bring a viable Community Fibre Project to fruition in a short presentation and try to answer any questions which arise.
 
To join send me an email on mike@mpo1.uk let me know which part of the Parish you are and I'll send you a link.
 
 
 

Oxen Park and Bouth - suitable for Overbuilding?

One of the interesting aspects of the Rural Gigabit Connectivity scheme is that it’s not just for those left in the slow lane with ADSL connections (& since you ask those in the Rusland area are getting together to do something about this). It’s also for anyone with less than 100 Mbps download speed – and that includes everyone who currently has fibre to the cabinet. This is all part of the drive towards full fibre and Gigabit connectivity.
 
So why would you want to move from FTTC and overbuild to get fibre coming into your home or business? Even if you are happy with your current speed and the reliability of the copper wire which brings the signal to you from the cabinet (& that last one is a big ‘if’ here), it uses old technology and is not in any way future proof. In a couple of years’ time, speeds of 40 Mbps which many of you are getting with FTTC will be looked on as slow. With fibre to your house or business, the speeds you can get are only limited by the equipment either end of the fibre  - and that is a function of what you are prepared to pay for.
 
So here’s an opportunity for residents of Oxen Park & Bouth to put together Community Fibre Partnerships which will in all probability generate vouchers which will cover the whole cost of FTTP networks in the two areas.
 
Is there a demand? Have a word with folks in your locality and let me know. I’m happy to advise to help you achieve this. There is a degree of urgency in this as the Voucher scheme will close to new applicants at the end of the financial year. It’s likely to be replaced but I doubt if its replacement will be as generous.