North Yorkshire which was one of the original BDUK pilot projects and is set to finish its original delivery target by the end of 2014 was recently offered £3m of extra funding from the BDUK (not all BDUK money was handed out from the original £530m) and also £2.275m was on offer from the EU via the ERDF (this fund is focused on helping small business activity).
At a meeting of the North Yorkshire County Council executive on Tuesday 29th, the broadband project for the county and this extra funding was debated and the eventual decision was made to accept the extra funding and the council would match fund with £3.1m from the Corporate Miscellaneous account within the 2013/2014 budget. This is pending a report to confirm that value for money would be achieved if the money were spent with BT.
"John Moore, Director Strategic Projects, said that the issue before the Executive was whether further funding should be invested through BT or whether improved value for money might be achieved by making those investments through an alternative provider. The options provided by BT would be subjected to a value for money test, together with options provided by other providers. He said that he was conscious that many of the 10% who were unlikely to obtain 25Mbs service would be happy to have a service provided from BT, but that could leave many people without a significantly improved service and alternative provision mechanisms might be able to satisfy more of that 10%. Discussions would be held with BT, but also with others offering other options.
County Councillor Arthur Barker said he was pleased to hear that discussions were not being held exclusively with BT and asked whether this applied in the intervention area only. In response, John Moore said that BT provision was cost effective in delivering from point to point, but that other technologies could flood wide areas and that could provide greater flexibility in improving services for the remaining 10%.
County Councillor Clare Wood said that she felt she must make the point that discussions about Superfast North Yorkshire were becoming increasingly fraught in rural areas. She said she hoped that the needs of such areas would be taken into account and that a consistent message about what could realistically be provided would be given to those living in rural areas. In response John Moore said he noted the comments which had been made but said that he could not provide an answer which everyone would find suitable. He believed the main question was how far efforts to deliver services to the remaining 10% of the population should continue with BT, and how far improvements could also be obtained for all residents through other providers. He said it would be necessary for decisions on these matters to be made in the coming months.
County Councillor Gareth Dadd said that he broadly welcomed the report and stressed that value for money was important. He noted that the County Council had, to date, made no capital contribution to the current phase of broadband roll out but stressed that the authority had invested quite substantially in terms of staff time and money. John Moore responded saying that the County Council had chosen to make the costs explicit through NYnet and he believed that other authorities were having to make similar commitments, in addition to capital contributions."Extract from NYCC Executive minutes
So while it is possible that BT will see all of the additional money and no indications are available yet of what extra funding they may provide the council is aware that alternative solutions may suit the final 10%. What is the best solution all comes down to the geographic spread of people and the topography involved e.g. a valley with 100 homes spread across a few miles may be best served by a wireless service but a cluster of 20 buildings around a remote farm might be a good FTTP proposition.
In terms of value for money the big question mark that the council needs to decide on is whether to use the extra money to give 3 or 4% in the final 10% superfast broadband, or boost everyone's speed beyond the 2 Mbps mark to ensure a lower but more useful speed of for example 15 Mbps.