In March 2017, following a second failed procurement run through Community Broadband Scotland, we formally withdrew from that public funding process and reverted to seeking de minimis (up to €200,000) public support for our project. This followed more than three years effort in engaging with CBS, and that after its taking two years to establish whether or not we would qualify for funding. So the decision was taken with the greatest reluctance, not least because doing so would create a significant shortfall in our project budget.
Now, a parallel community project, with similar goals to ourselves and itself with a great deal of expertise, North Skye Broadband, has also been forced to withdraw from the public funding process, issuing this press release, one that we could have issued practically unchanged to describe our own experience.
The original R100 was the most successful British airship of the 1930s, insofar as it never actually crashed and burned, unlike rather too many of its contemporaries. So let’s hope that’s a good omen, as the Scottish Government’s new broadband programme has been given the same name. In this case though, it stands for “Reach 100%”. By that, they mean provision of coverage of 100% of properties with “superfast” broadband by 2021.
On Friday 20th November we held the first public meeting for Balquhidder Community Broadband: we’ve been working away these past months to get costs, tenders and demand sorted out and now have at least the first steps towards effective, community-driven broadband for our area. And not before time. For any who missed the occasion, a video version of the presentation is on youtube:
Like many other rural Scottish communities, our problem is geography: having a fairly small but highly dispersed population strung out along the loch sides and side glens. Our core funding from Community Broadband Scotland will cover the capital expenditure and setup for our external connection and at least the bulk of our costs for our backbone within the glen, which is great. However, connecting the outlying clusters of properties (most of them farms) might be pushing the limits of available funding.
The Scottish Government makes a point in its goals for the Digital Scotland (DSSB) rollout that there will always be some areas for which provision of terrestrial broadband is impractical and that the fallback for those areas will include satellite-based broadband.
Unfortunately, there is a heavy dose of wishful thinking here: without direct public intervention, commercial operators cannot be guaranteed to provide a reliable and consistent service. This is borne out by experience in practice.
After the major, albeit long predicted, disappointments of BT’s failure to include Balquhidder in its rollout of fibre broadband and Digital Scotland’s refusal to recognise the deeply flawed nature of their contract with BT, we are now in the much happier position of being able to report that Community Broadband Scotland has accepted our case for capital funding for broadband provision to the Balquhidder area. There are several ways in which we can do this and we’re now working with CBS to put together an initial invitation to tender. Continue reading Better news: Balquhidder Broadband→
On 6 April 2015, I was interviewed by Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4’s prime time news programme, PM, about the dire situation for local digital connectivity (broadband, mobile and TV). In short, it appears that due to poor contracting and contract management by Digital Scotland, the government body charged with implementation of the government’s commitment to rural broadband, many areas remain as complete broadband “not-spots”, with two publicly funded development projects which do not operate in a remotely joined up way and where the main project has been let to a private monopoly (BT) that is not being required to consider anything other than its normal commercial criteria for rollout. It is not, for instance, neither required to nor has demonstrated any interest in, working with the other public project, Community Broadband Scotland, to cost-effectively facilitate local community initiatives.
The end result of course is very poor value for money in both projects, a failure to meet, in the real-world, the original intent of these projects, as opposed to the ridiculous box-ticking exercises that are being used to justify the current approach.
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.
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… Continue reading Update: Plus Ça Change…→
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…→