You Can’t Get There From Here: Rural Broadband in the 2020s

This is the text of the talk given by Richard Harris at 2016’s Broadband World Forum, on 18 October 2016. As it happens, we were on immediately after the director of BT’s Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) project in Cornwall, who, after summarising the good work done there, regrettably went on to immediately perpetuate the spurious and readily debunkable claims of digital leadership that have helped give BT such a bad name.

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What’s it Worth?

Amid all the frustrations of trying to follow a public funding process that is clearly being made up by the relevant bodies as they go along, we’ve actually been able to get on with some real work towards the project. We’ve got a model that demonstrates the build cost (we can deliver a 1000+ MB/s network for less than the government’s per premise ‘value’ figure of £3,400 for a 10Mb/s service)  and another that shows that the service is sustainable and financially viable. So far, so good.

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July News

In a world where uncertainty and idiocy seem to be the new normal, we know we can rely on one thing: the slow-moving nature of British (and Scottish) bureaucracy. We are though, however belatedly, now in the 30-day State Aid Public Consultation window during which commercial operators can rock up and say if they’re planning to do anything in the area. Given that our repeated representations to BT over the years have come to naught and that other commercial operators have refused to consider us – not least for fear of BT deliberately running a ‘spoiler’ project – it seems fairly unlikely that anything will interrupt progress. Continue reading “July News” »

Project Update: June 2016

Things may have been a little quiet publicly on the broadband front, but that simply means that, like the swans on the loch, we’ve been paddling furiously beneath the surface, trying to make headway against rising currents. Those currents have been in the form of some hair-rending bureaucracy that’s been belatedly thrown at us by government bodies and which are currently causing us months of delay. So let’s first rewind to this time last year, when we entered into the procurement process required by Community Broadband Scotland for public funding. We followed their process and went out to market to solicit bids for a future-proof broadband service that could be provided at a market-competitive rate. What we got back were a few bids that were mostly poorly prepared, didn’t meet local needs and which offered equipment that would need replacing every few years. Uncool.  Continue reading “Project Update: June 2016” »

Light Relief…

Well, that’s us received our first abuse letter, I assume in response to our piece on Radio 4 the other day.  It’s a postcard berating us for seeking funding for “Big Boys’ Toys”, from someone who clearly regards the telegraph (not, please note “The Telegraph”, although both may be true) as a new-fangled invention of the Devil. We were going to reply but our stone chisels are a bit blunt at the moment – we’ve been trying to work out how to build this wheel thingy…

Dear Beachcomber, we’re very glad, if a tad surprised, to hear that you’re still alive and venting. Keep it up.


Universal Service Exemption

I was asked to comment last night on Radio 4’s PM programme about the commitment in the Queen’s Speech to 10Mb/s broadband for all in the UK by 2020. The BBC only had a very limited time available, but I did manage to get ‘fatuous’ and ‘insane’ into my piece, which gives you some idea of where I’m coming from. The on-air piece itself is available here on iPlayer (starting 17:37 in).

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back…

Yes, these are pictures of a nuclear bunker, this being the forthcoming Bogons data centre near Comrie. It is also where our fibre should meet that of the wider world and will, we hope, achieve  economies of scale from aggregation with other users that will make our network ever cheaper to run: if we just bought our backhaul (the link between the glen and the wider internet) at about the same initial cost from a commercial provider, we’d still have to pay Openreach’s Excess Construction Costs to get the link from the Strathyre Exchange to the entrance to the glen, but we’d never thereafter gain any benefit from others using the wider link. With the bunker, the idea is that we start at par and then go down in cost from there.

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February News…

Build Progress

We’ve had the cabling company that works with Bogons, our preferred supplier, out to look at the glen and they’ve now been commissioned to come back and carry out the necessary detailed survey (taking 4/5 days) to fully cost what’s needed. That’s happening from 8 March. We’ve asked them to provide us with a menu of costs for each part of the network: the 13km that gets to all bar 22 of the 178 properties in our area and for each segment beyond that (totalling another 13km). This will let us work out just how much of the work we need to do ourselves to get to all parts of the glen: we know that the only way we will be able to provide fibre to every house or business in the area will through significant community effort as part of the lay.

The rest of our costs are now fairly firm, so we’re awaiting the survey results that will let us know just where we stand. We’re including in that survey the costs of crossing both the glen road where needed and the A84 where we’re serving Balquhidder Station.

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Copper-Bottomed Con

Whilst we and other communities in the UK push ahead with bringing fibre to every property in our area, The UK and Local governments continue to give a good impression of being in thrall to the BT Group, an underachieving and disinterested private monopoly that still tries to pretend that copper-to-premises is a valid service model for the twenty-first century. Continue reading “Copper-Bottomed Con” »