Update: Plus Ça Change…

Here we go again: time for the semi-regular update on local broadband and the semi-inevitable rant about BT and its unholy relationship with local and national government agencies. It’s tempting to stop right there, but let’s try to get at least some crumb of information out of the situation, so…

There was a public meeting for Community Councils, held at McLaren High School in Callander, at the end of April, with a presentation by BT’s and the Scottish government’s project managers for the current Step Change 2015 project.

The long and the short of it is that core areas have already been identified and, in some – such as Callander – installation of upgraded exchanges and street cabinets is already under way. But that’s mostly for well-populated areas that, frankly, should have had fast broadband long ago and it does nothing to give substance to the flowery expressions of commitment to rural broadband that have been made for many years now: If broadband delivery were powered by hot air, we’d all have had world-class coverage long ago.

Two main issues arose at the meeting: firstly, BT showed a map of currently planned coverage for fast broadband, based on the surveys done so far, albeit that their commitment to proper ground surveys ahead of planning seems to have vanished without trace or challenge. They had however, taken most geographical features out of that map. When asked why, the BT manager’s reply (and this is as verbatim as I can manage) was, “Oh, we can’t give people real information – they’d believe us!”. A full and frank exchange of views ensued.

We were however able to work out something from that map, given that the positions of the lochs give a good clue as to where things are around here: Strathyre itself should be OK, with delivery scheduled for January-June 2015.  Whatever does happen in and around Lochearnhead and Balquhidder will happen in July-December 2015. Balquhidder however falls mainly into the category of ‘under evaluation’, which appears to mean ‘not under evaluation’ given the lack of a ground survey which, by the commitment given by BT to the Broadband Advisory Group last September, should have taken place by now.

A more detailed look at the map of the area appears to show a strong commitment to provide Fibre to Sheep capability – lots of fields are coloured in, but not places where people actually live. My interpretation of the map’s marked coverage is that BT are NOT planning to take the simple step of providing a cabinet in Balquhidder Village, accessed via the ducting they put in at a cost of £160,000 in 2007 (easy, cheap and effective), but are likely to take the non-step of doing precisely nothing here, leaving us to rely, as we do now, on lines that run direct to the Strathyre Exchange. Given the nature of the technologies involved and if nothing else changes, that will mean that, for much of Balquhidder and the outlying areas, provision will likely get much WORSE, if not impossible. Attempts to get clarification of this have, to date, proved fruitless.

The Scottish Government project manager was then questioned about how they are evaluating such marginal areas: the answer I’d hoped for was that they’d be looking at both domestic and economic demand in order to determine priorities – with the number of substantial businesses locally, that would have given us some useful weight. I got no such answer. In fact, we got no specific answer at all. A full and frank exchange of views ensued.

There is supposed to be a commitment to provide services of at least 2Mb/s (ie what the rest of the planet had circa 2002) by ‘other means’. The lazy option here (and therefore the most likely) is satellite, which is NOT an effective long-term solution.

What we have done locally is to enter into discussions with Community Broadband Scotland: we have produced initial costings for a community-based broadband system that is completely independent of BT’s vagaries and failings – the figures look initially promising but the issue with such projects is less the up-front costs than the longer-term running costs. More will be published here as we refine things.

The slides from the BT/Scotgov presentation are are here and the map for the “Rest of Scotland” broadband rollout is here.

I would really, really like to be able to report something positive about the BT/Scotgov project. Go on BT, give me a chance…

Finally, I note that they’ve now changed the name of the Step Change 2015 programme, presumably to take out any commitment to anything happening by or in 2015…

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