Broadband Update 15th September 2015
Attempts have failed to make use of the government's business voucher scheme to pay for a high speed broadband network in the valley. The reason for this is explained more fully in the next article.
We must now wait for Shropshire Council to announce its next steps for extending broadband in what it calls “Phase 2b” – probably later this year. The Council currently has about £11m to spend and that figure will increase substantially with contractual repayments and savings from their initial BT contract for broadband deployment.
Government announcements on broadband policy are also anticipated this autumn, including the outcomes of trials of other ways of bringing broadband to rural areas and an increase in the guaranteed minimum download speed, although concerns still linger that that a satellite solution may be favoured. These announcements may influence what Shropshire Council decides to do with its broadband money.
In the absence of anything positive, our advice is to struggle on with whatever speeds you have until you know what the Council's plans are. If they do end up supplying the valley with high speed broadband, because of the criteria for the use of their money, whatever is provided is likely to be better than commercial offers of satellite and fixed wireless services that you may receive in the meantime.
One problem is that existing BT infrastructure is in the form of three separate exchanges supplying the valley – one from Bucknell (01547), one from Knighton (also 01547) and one from Clun (01588). If Shropshire Council’s Phase 2b contract is with BT, there is no telling at present whether one, two or three of those exchanges would be upgraded nor which would come first. If not all were upgraded, that could create a two-
2. Why the voucher scheme has come to nothing.
Earlier this year we told you that BDUK, the government body responsible for rural roll-
Patrick Cosgrove, Robert Humphreys, Sarah Jameson and Jim Rogers tried to find ways of using these vouchers to bring broadband into the valley. This involved discussions with BT, other network builders and operators, Shropshire Council and Digital Birmingham, the organisation that oversees the voucher scheme.
Rules prevented BT Openreach from being involved in the voucher scheme, and and although we found companies that could work with us and might have worked together to provide a combination of fibre and wireless broadband, other complications arose.
The biggest barrier turned out to be voucher eligibility. Although it did not say it in the voucher publicity, quite by chance some way into the process we discovered that farms that had received 15,000 Euros or more in farm subsidy payments across the last three years are ineligible. Because so many of the businesses in the valley are farms, this drastically reduced the amount that might have been raised by aggregating vouchers. We asked Shropshire Council if some of their broadband money could be used to compensate for this loss but it seems that they were unable to do that, presumably because they are still deliberating on how to use their broadband fund.
The voucher idea is not completely dead for us, because although the national budget is running out, government may extend the scheme which could conceivably bring changes to its rules. However, prospects are not good at present and there are other complications not worth detailing here, and anyway, national events may present something better.
The one positive thing to come out of this is that we have found a good fibre network builder who might be prepared to work with us if the need arises.
It hardly needs saying that the supply of what is now an essential service should never have been this complicated.
3. Shropshire Council's latest position statement.
The Council's current position can be seen here:
The most relevant sections are shown below:
"We now have a balance of BDUK funds of £6.68m that can be used together with the Marches LEP’ Local Growth Fund allocation of £5.02m. We intend to use this funding towards a further procurement exercise. At the same time we will continue to explore options with our partners BT as part of the process, but not under exclusivity and with no obligations on the council. The unallocated funds provide Shropshire Council with a clear opportunity to reassess the wider market as outlined in the December paper. It is anticipated that the process of ‘soft market’ testing will encourage ‘Procurement competition’ and the use of new technologies which will be essential to providing greater reach to those most impacted by the lack of fibre broadband coverage."
“We are anticipating savings within Phase 1 that will contribute to further coverage. This will be assessed as part of any pre Phase 2b procurement being undertaken.”
Proposal for a super-
16th April 2016
Thank you to everyone who attended Thursday’s meeting or sent their support and apologies.
Here is a summary of where we are.
After a meeting of a few residents last year it was agreed that I should contact BT with a proposal to connect properties on the Bucknell exchange to superfast broadband (24 – 80Mbs) using the “fibre to cabinet” solution used by BT in the rest of the country. Patrick Cosgrove would contact other providers with a proposal for a scheme that would connect up the whole of the Redlake Valley in one go.
After 10 months, BT Openreach have come back with a quote for the additional funding they would require to connect up Chapel Lawn. I have attached an rough plan (hover your cursor over the plan above for a larger version). The red lines are existing copper phone wires, the blue lines is new fibre and the green dots are two new green fibre cabinets. Yellow dots represent properties connected at 24 – 80Mbs and pink dots represent properties connected at 10 – 23MBs (not “superfast”).
The quote is for £102,857! However, Shropshire Council have indicated that they could fund £1700 per property connected at 24+Mbs; this would be £47,600. It appears the main cost in the scheme is to dig a fibre into the road from the edge of Bucknell to Lower Lye. If the community could get permission from the landowners to “mole plough” the cable across private land to the Lower Lye, the project may then become affordable.
Once there is fibre down to Chapel Lawn, BT or any other provider can connect to the network to extend superfast broadband further up the valley.
Patrick objected to the scheme because it only connected a third of Redlake Valley and so would be divisive. He suggested an alternative where we try to persuade BT to extend their fibre to The Pentre and then build a wireless network to the rest of the valley using the existing “lines of sight” route set up by Jentech 10 years ago now disused.
It was agreed that:
· James Middleton would sound out the landowners to see if they might be willing to allow mole ploughing some of the route.
· I would get a revised quote from BT Openreach.
· I would try to set up a meeting with Shropshire Council, BT, Patrick and the wider community to explore an extension to the fibre to the Pentre.
· Patrick would contact Philip Dunne MP to invite him to attend our meeting
· Patrick would try to find a company willing to build a wireless network across the rest of the valley.
I will continue to keep you posted of developments and we will call another meeting of everyone when I can get Shropshire Council and BT to attend. If you have any comments or questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.