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Superfast Broadband Update – January 2017

Progress continues to be made behind the scenes on our long march to Superfast Broadband.

BT still say they are “planning” to bring superfast broadband to the Borthwickbrae exchange in the last half of 2017. Don’t hold your breath on that one, but we live in hope !

Our best option, in my opinion, is the joint approach that is being undertaken by “Borders Broadband” (formerly Ettrick and Beyond….).

Since the last newsletter article, a great deal of work has been done behind the scenes. A Project Board is now in place, a website developed and a number of avenues to bring Superfast Broadband to the areas involved are being investigated.

More details can be found at the Borders Broadband website (http://www.bordersbroadband.co.uk)

A summary of where the Borders Broadband project is at would be as follows :-

  • Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) have engaged a technical consultancy firm (Atkins Farrpoint) to establish the technical feasibility of the project and to establish whether the £1.2million earmarked for us is enough money to deliver a system to deliver 30Mbps services to most , if not all in the project area. If it’s not enough, CBS may increase the funding as 30Mbps is now the “benchmark” minimum speed that most UK projects are aiming for.
  • Berwickshire’s Community Broadband scheme is of a similar size to our project and is at a similar stage having undergone the Open Market Review (OMR) to establish whether any commercial suppliers have plans for bringing superfast broadband into their area. We are meeting with the Berwickshire team later this month to see if there would be benefits in joining forces. A larger combined project would be potentially more attractive to companies in the tendering process, but a larger area may mean it is more technically challenging.
  • Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is developing the “Reaching 100%” (R100) programme to deliver superfast broadband to all those left-over areas that won’t be covered by the market, or by projects like ours and Berwickshire’s. The plan is that there should be truly national coverage by 2021. The R100 approach might turn out to be better than the CBS option – but details are sketchy at the moment. We will probably have an opportunity to choose which approach we prefer (CBS or R100) around mid 2017 when more details are known.
  • Another option is to go it alone, without state aid. A group of people in the north of England have developed THE best superfast broadband solution in the country and they did it all without government money. They are called “Broadband for the Rural North” (B4RN) and their website is www.b4rn.org.uk. They offer an unparalleled internet service of 1000Mbps to every home (over 10 times as fast as BT’s best offering) for £30 per month. Calum Kerr MP is arranging for our team to meet up with the B4RN team so we can find out more and see if this solution would work for us. Although this is VERY exciting, there are huge obstacles (raising the money, company capacity, number of volunteers, different geographies and topographies to name just a few) that may mean this is a non-starter, but it is still worth pursuing as the end result is as future-proof as can be.

 

A lot of work has been done on financing the first stages of this journey, which we need to do as there is no government support for setting up our project, the staff to manage it, or sourcing the technical and professional advice we’ll need to reach the right decision. Councils have been consulted, and LEADER and windfarm funding is being sought for this. By the end of February we should know how much money we have in a pot to finance the first stages of our journey to Superfast Broadband.

Meantime, we’ll be spending the first 2-3 months of 2017 trying to work out the advantages and disadvantages of the CBS, R100 and B4RN options, and the implications and demands of setting up a community company to run a network (if that’s the preferred option) so we’re ready to move forward once project funding is confirmed.

Much like a swan gliding slowly across a lake, we are heading in the right direction and it may look like there is little work being done and no progress being made, but look under the water and this swan is paddling hard battling with debris and other flotsam to head in the right direction.