No Broadband for Balquhidder

There are two publicly funded projects to improve the reach of superfast broadband in rural Scotland. There is the government’s Step Change 2015 programme (albeit recently renamed after they realised that the 2015 target just wasn’t going to happen). BT has been gifted more than £530M of public money (£100.8M in Scotland, plus a local top-up of about £670,000 from Stirling Council) for this contract. Then there’s Community Broadband Scotland (CBS), which exists to help remote communities get connected. CBS appears to work well for communities who KNOW that they aren’t getting anything from BT, ever. The problem lies with communities that just don’t know if they’re going to be part of the BT rollout and who therefore can’t make sensible bids for community funding to CBS because they don’t know where they’ll be able to connect into the fast BT ‘backbone’ network and therefore how much it will cost.

Locally, Strathyre will receive fibre from Callander in the first half of 2015 and Lochearnhead will get it from Auchterarder in the second half of next year but Balquhidder has been in the position of not knowing what, if anything, it would be getting. Following BT’s and Scottish Government’s deeply unsatisfactory performance at their meeting for community councils earlier in the year, a meeting was organised for 29 September, chaired by Bruce Crawford MSP, to bring together BT, CBS, The Scottish Government and representatives of the Balquhidder community. 

BT, via the government representative (BT were a no-show at the meeting – apparently their representative’s car broke down) stated that they will not be putting fibre into Balquhidder as their calculations show that putting a cabinet in the village would not significantly ‘uplift’ (their term) the speed of connection to most properties in the area. As previously noted, it likely means that, once the upgrades to Strathyre are complete, some properties in Balquhidder may well lose even their existing broadband provision.

If the residents and enterprises of Balquhidder wish to be part of the connected world, then it appears that we can:
- Lobby hard through our MSP and MP (telecommunications funding still comes from Westminster) to have this ludicrous decision reviewed. If this concerns you, please do it!
- Engage with CBS to put a project together to get Balquhidder connected, now that we know where fibre is and isn’t going to. This is already under way.

The big issue here is that BT is basing their calculations purely on whether properties in Balquhidder would be able to get superfast broadband using their own extant and ancient infrastructure. They completely ignore the existence of both CBS and other local initiatives that can take over at a cabinet and provide fast, reliable and cheap local distribution. If there was ever an example of a major public contract comprehensively breaching the spirit of the agreement and intent of the whole project, this is it. We are now in a position where a lively, active community and a whole range of businesses are being denied cost-effective (or indeed any) modern internet access, despite huge sums of our money being spent on a programme designed to provide just that. BT’s own Corporate Social Responsibility Statement includes the line, “Our aim is to help create a better world by tackling big issues where better communication can make a real difference”. Changing it to, “Take the money and run” would more accurately reflect their approach.

This is a quite astonishing situation and one I feel that reflects very poorly on both parties: the Scottish Government’s contracting and contract management and BT’s corporate short-sightedness, its failure to adapt its approach to the needs of this contract and an apparent utter lack of concern with resourcing and delivering on the commitments implicit in the contract.

 

Double Standards

For weeks now, we’ve been seeing very poor subjective performance from Tooway’s satellite service. When measured, we’re seeing a large discrepancy between what Tooway’s own speed tester shows and what we get from decent speed checkers such as Speedof.me.

Firstly, how things look when everything is working properly: note that there’s relatively little discrepancy between the figures given by Tooway and Speedof.me.

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 16.15.22

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So far, so good. Now look at what’s typical of we’re getting at the moment, in particular the vast gap between the performance results from the two testers. Of course, the subjective experience matches the figures given by the speedof.me tests.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 22.13.07 Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 22.15.32

If we charitably assume for the moment that the Tooway test service runs from a node on the Tooway terrestrial network, whilst Speedof.me is, like all end-users, working outside that network on the wider internet, then it’s clear that there is a major routing or peering performance issue with Tooway’s connections to the outside world.

To date, Avonline’s tech support has been at its usual ineffectual level. But I’ll keep trying and see if I can get anything remotely useful  out of them.

Glacial Progress…

Continuing from last month’s update on attempts to bring the communications available to the three villages area into roughly the same century as the outside world, there’s a little good news and a whole lot of no news: Firstly, with BT awarded government funding under the Step Change 2015 programme to bring a minimum of 2Mb/s to 80% of the rural population, they have announced that they can deliver that level to 93.5% of us. That, whilst it would help a number of the “no-band” areas in the Trossachs, is unlikely make much difference in our area. The way in which BT will deliver this is also unlikely to be future proof in the local area and will deliver a maximum performance that falls far short of current ‘normal’ broadband, let alone the capacity that  that online services are starting to assume as normal and for which they are designing their next generation of services. In effect, if you’re not a urban dweller with fibre cables in your street, you effectively become classed as the ‘rural poor’ and, by definition, don’t matter. 
Continue reading Glacial Progress…

Step Change 2015

This should be good news. But may not be. The Scottish government and, locally, Stirling Council recently announced the results of their £264M Step Change procurement for “superfast” (the quotes are intentional irony) broadband  to 85% of homes and businesses across Scotland by 2015, rising to around 95% by the end of 2017.  But guess where appears to be in the remaining 15%?

Continue reading Step Change 2015

Broadband in Balquhidder

The lack of effective broadband provision in the local area has been an issue since early Celtic times: engravings on local standing stones indicate regular sacrifices of proto-human network executives to propitiate the gods of connectivity. Little has changed since and multiple attempts have been since made to improve the state of local communications, given just how critical effective broadband is to economic and social development and the sustainability of rural communities.

Continue reading Broadband in Balquhidder