The way the £20 million rural broadband fund will be spent is much clearer now, as Defra has started taking applications for projects that will utilise the £20m of funding that is available. The application and expression of interest postbox is open until 6th July 2012, with more detail on the Defra website, a companion page with a link to a toolkit (aka PDF) is on the BDUK webpages.
The Defra site talks of a fund of £40m, which includes another £20m for applicants to the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme, which is designed to help business buy new machinery or develop green projects.
The aim of the rural broadband fund is to try and extend the reach of superfast broadband beyond the main BDUK 90% superfast coverage target. Any funding obtained by community or individual solutions will only be handed out after the project has completed delivery, so any project will require upfront investment from other sources. The amount that will be handed out, is limited to £300 per property passed and is capped at 50% of the capital and setup costs, the fund is not allowed to be used to subsidise ongoing costs.
The Applicant's Handbook which is a 23 page PDF, actually provides some insight into why fixed wireless has not figured more in BDUK related projects.
"Superfast Broadband is the UK term used to describe broadband services of 30 Mbps or more, and in no circumstances less than 24 Mbps, which the UK government is committed to making available to at least 90% of premises in the UK.
Next Generation Access (NGA) is a European Union (EU) concept, which defines the types of broadband services that can be supported with government funds in those areas where the market does not currently provide them.
The definition includes “fibre-rich” solutions including fibre to the premises (FttP) and Fibre to the Cabinet (FttC) but historically the EU’s position is that radio-based (“wireless”) technologies are considered “basic broadband” solutions rather than NGA solutions in their own right.
Following recent discussions between BDUK and the Commission, the EC are currently considering under which circumstances where the use of high-speed fixed wireless solutions can meet their objectives of an NGA technology, in terms of improving end-user experiences and driving increased deployment of fibre.
It is anticipated that further clarity on the Commission’s position will be received during Summer 2012.Extracts from page 11 of handbook
The end result is a warning, that any applications that intend to utilise wireless technology to meet the 30 Mbps target, may see their application delayed. We would hazard that the reason for this is the longer term goal of the EU that by 2020 half of us will actually be using 100 Mbps connections, and the rest have access to a minimum of 30 Mbps. Thus the EU sees full fibre as the final destination, with solutions like FTTC as a partial solution.
As with all Government grant applications, the hoops to be jumped through are many, but then with centuries of people trying to extract money in return for delivering nothing, one can understand the bureaucracy involved sometimes. One of the major ones is that applicants need to clarify with their local authority that the area is in one of the 10% hard to reach areas as defined by the Local Authority Broadband Plan. Also while the local need or demand area points people towards ADSL pre-qualification checkers, collating actual modem sync stats would prove more accurate, though more time consuming.
In terms of numbers if every application were to utilise the full £300 per property limit, then the £20 million will improve broadband well beyond the basic 2 Mbps USC for around 66,000 businesses and homes. Which while a small number compared to the 2.6 million that make up the 10%, represents a big step change, and just maybe will stimulate more commercial interest in those areas.