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New £10m broadband fund under National Infrastructure Plan
Thursday 05 December 2013 13:52:15 by Andrew Ferguson

The latest National Infrastructure Plan for 2013 and onwards has been published by the UK Government which provides a summary of current projects and what sort of investment is currently planned for the next few years.

Innovation and disruptive ideas have been the key to the success of Internet and has allowed UK companies to compete on the world stage and other countries to sell to the UK consumer at very cheap prices. As such broadband is a key infrastructure and the investment since the current Government come into power is starting to become apparent, but is also attracting increasing amounts of complaints as people wonder when the improvements will reach them.

"42 out of 44 local projects have now completed their procurements

  • Final two projects due to complete procurement before the end of the year
  • First superfast upgrades have now gone live in a quarter of the projects
  • As at the end of October, nearly 140,000 premises have been passed with superfast broadband as a result of public funding
  • Premises were being passed at a rate of 10,000 per week in October 2013 as a result of the programme
  • By spring 2014, premises passed will rise to 25,000 per week and to 40,000 per week by the summer
  • Rutland, Surrey and North Yorkshire are anticipated to complete current rollout programmes within 2014
Progress update from National Infrastructure Plan on BDUK projects

The new part of the 2013 plan is that a new £10m fund will be created in 2014, with the aim to test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the hardest to reach parts of the UK. This is in addition to the current BDUK projects, and the other £250m previously announced for the 2015 to 2017 period which should see 95% of UK premises able to order a superfast broadband service.

"...opening a £10 million competitive fund in 2014 to market test innovative solutions, delivering superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas of the UK; the government will continue to support local bodies to develop appropriate strategies to procure additional coverage in areas not covered by current plans, using the £250 million allocated at Spending Round 2013"

The new £10m rural innovation fund

Extra investment is welcome, but to be totally honest it is not clear if we need another test bed, unless this is to help the civil service understand what many people have been saying for some years. The choices as we see them for the most rural areas are:

  • Satellite broadband, potential for up to 20 Mbps currently and potentially every rural farm could have this deployed in a few weeks/months
  • 4G via mixture of fixed antenna and standard mobile tech, which EE are about to launch
  • FTTP will provide the ultimate future proof reliable connection (apart from JCB or rat damage) but running this 2km to a lone property is very expensive
  • Fixed Wireless, a range of frequencies available and can cover a fairly wide area quickly, provided enough mast capacity is installed
  • Extra FTTC hardware, e.g. adding small sub cabinets closer to properties than existing cabinets, suitable for clusters of perhaps 50 properties within 500m of the new node
  • could work for clusters of 8 to 12 properties all within 100m, but in the most rural areas this is very rare

We suspect that the £10m is probably what the Government expects to be left from the old Rural Community Broadband Fund, which has largely failed, either due to BT playing a clever game, or more likely the joys of taking part in a Government procurement project which are generally never cheap to take part in. The complex rule systems to avoid people embezzling money that have built up over hundreds of years make it easier for a firm with large teams of lawyers to bid, rather than a small community project.

A final thought, one can only wonder what rural broadband projects could achieve if funding of up to £3,000 per connection was available to them in the same way as the voucher scheme trial for super-connected cities worked.


Posted by WWWombat over 3 years ago
The £10m pot isn't strictly to "test" innovative solutions, in a technical sense. It is to "market test" innovative solutions.

To me that means trying to find out whether consumers will accept some of the undesirable aspects of the "innovative" solutions (ie buy it regardless).
Posted by ccxo over 3 years ago
If the £10 million has come from the RCBF, which projects have the other £10 million gone to?
Posted by cyberdoyle over 3 years ago
ccxo the rest will have gone back to the EU as it couldn't be allocated because BT wouldn't release postcode data so they effectively killed any community projects getting the funding. so its wasted now.

If £3000 per connection was allocated then the whole country could easy have ftth. but the problem with the voucher scheme is folk will go for quick fix like a subsidised satellite and then when the money is gone the whole job is to do again. Best do it once and do it right. Fibre to the hardest places, work inwards, let market forces take over, job done.
Posted by fastman over 3 years ago
cyber they wern't killed - most of them are already in a defined intervetion area for BDUK and the rules state you cant get publicy money more that once for an area
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
"The maximum amount the RCBF will normally provide per premise is based on a benchmark of up to £300 (excluding VAT)" describes TWO projects underway under RCBF.
Posted by herdwick over 3 years ago
I think as well as BDUK (ex BBC licence fee) RCBF money was taken out of RDPE 2.5 years ago
Posted by mikejp over 3 years ago
fastman - "cyber they wern't killed - most of them are already in a defined intervetion area for BDUK and the rules state you cant get publicy money more that once for an area" I assume by "a defined intervetion area" you mean a whole County? Surely you have 'noticed' very few of the projects have been able to prove 'non-intervention' at postcode level as required.
Posted by pfvincent over 3 years ago
The problem with most of these "innovative" solutions is that they are ISP specific, so there is no competition. AFAIK only FTTC or FTTH provides infrastructure over which any ISP can offer customers a service. Going for "innovative" solutions will result in the same situation as we have in Virgin cabled areas, where you accept Virgin prices and Ts and Cs, or don't have the service.
Posted by gerarda over 3 years ago
@fastman They were killed by BT being awarded the contracts without having to specify which postcodes would get a Superfast service. So we have areas where BT are protected from further State Aided competition but without the obligation to provide a service.
@pfvincent. What alternatives do those with sub 2mb services have now?
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