The granting of EU State Aid Approval for those broadband projects operating under the blanket BDUK scheme in November 2012 resulted in a rash of project announcements over the last few weeks. The document that describes the BDUK project to the EU and its subsequent approval is now available online.
At 29 pages long it is unlikely that a framed copy will appear on the wall in the BDUK office, but one would hope that as part of the commitment to transparency it will be added to the documents that are part of the small but hard to find BDUK website.
"As regards the design of the individual measures, under the umbrella of the scheme project with different designs can be carried out without a need for individual state aid notification: for instance, state aid granting authorities might choose BDUK's preferred 'investment gap funding' model, or could decide to finance only part of the infrastructure such as by creating open access backhaul access points close to the consumer premises or support only passive infrastructure elements."Extract State Aid Approval document
While all the county based projects have so far chosen the investment gap funding model, the much vaunted digital hub model that was originally part of the Digital Britain report and also favoured by the House of Lords was still put forward as one of the options that local authorities could choose. It may be that the large BDUK projects will all choose the gap funded model, but with 100 smaller projects expected via the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) we may see some adopting the option to build fibre infrastructure to a central location in a community and allow the community or operators to build out from there at their own cost.
For those who are worried that with BT winning all the large projects to date, thus appearing to be simply a way to subsidise the BT Group, page 19 of the document clearly indicates that if deployment costs are lower than expected or take-up is higher than forecast that a claw-back mechanism exists so that the local bodies can recover a proportionate amount up to the amount of the public investment. The local authority has the option to re-invest this money in further roll-out (e.g. increasing the availability of superfast broadband deeper into the most rural areas). There is a lower limit on which projects can qualify for claw-back of £150,000, which means that many small RCBF projects will be excluded from this mechanism.
For the small number of people who already have access to a FTTC based service, but are only able to get slow speeds (we estimate that less than 2% of UK telephone lines are further than 1500m from the existing green street cabinets, at 1500m VDSL is likely to provide a 15 Mbps connection), page 12 of the document appears to rule out funding to boost speeds by converting a particular line from an existing FTTC to an FTTP service. In cases where the line falls below the safety net that will be the 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment, then obviously some other technical measures will be deployed (e.g. bonding or fixed wireless access).