Last year Cotswold Broadband was close to starting a FTTP roll-out to areas around Chipping Norton but that all fell apart with the failure of an RCBF application. It now seems that the central Government plans to invest extra money to take superfast coverage to 95% of UK premises at some point in 2017 and the need for local authorities to decide whether to join that scheme or use an alternate method has given a major boost to the plans of Cotswold Broadband.
West Oxfordshire District Council has opted to ignore the larger programme and back Cotswold Broadband in a co-investment scheme that aims to bring high speed broadband to every premises in West Oxfordshire. The aim is to cover the roughly 4,000 properties across the district that fall outside the larger county led BDUK project with a variety of technologies to ensure 100% coverage.
Update 5pm Hugo Pickering has pointed out the coverage footprint is around 4,000 premises, the original 2,000 we mentioned would be the final 5% but project is aiming to push the gap from 90% to 100%.
The £1.6m is still subject to final approval but the aim is that will be in the form of a loan that will attract interest and is to be repaid after the project has completed. Importantly the return on investment is expected to be £80,000 per year, or £40 per year for every property in the foot print. From reading the report of the chief executive that is on the council website the prospect of a ROI compared to going with the counties 95% scheme along with worries over how the final 5% would be served were key aspects for picking the co-investment scheme.
The Cotswold Broadband model appears to be based around an open access model and we have asked for indications on pricing and whether an anchor retailer is already on board. We are a little worried that the council is talking of just high speed broadband, the presumption seems to be this means superfast, and while Cotswold Broadband holds aloft the FTTH/FTTP flag the paperwork talks of the most appropriate technology, which means we may see the most rural properties served by fixed wireless with some FTTP serving the clusters of premises that exist in the final 10%.
If every property in this final 10% was getting no broadband now, or less than 1 Mbps the desire to upgrade will ensure high take-up, but for those who perhaps only use their Internet connection to do online banking speeds above 2 Mbps may be of no interest, particularly if the pricing is significantly more than their existing service.
The UK political landscape is generally one of risk avoidance, so this decision in Oxfordshire will be keenly watched and we sincerely hope the timing of the announcement has nothing to do with local elections. We look forward to watching the roll-out and the completion of another bit the UK Broadband patchwork quilt.