Roll-up and get funding for your ingenious broadband ideas
The DCMS has published a few soundbites around the official opening of the new rural broadband scheme to bids along with the actual procurement documentation that bidders will need to complete.
While some will claim that the 95% superfast broadband target for the UK will never be met, the Culture Secretary Maria Miller is still sticking to her guns and is on record now as saying the focus needs to shift to the hardest to reach premises. The £10m of funding is not designed to connect all of the final 5%, but appears to be meant to allow exploration of alternative methods and has three main categories that it is looking for bids to fit into.
- Technology: Trying different types of connectivity, that may already work elsewhere but have not being deployed in deeply rural areas, or innovative solutions that have in the past held back its rural deployment.
- Operating models: explore novel models such as creating mini-networks that can join together to form a larger network. To use this sounds just like what happened with the cable franchise in the last two decades, or is a gift to mesh type radio projects.
- Financial: looking at methods that can use a mixture of public/private funding and how to encourage new investment, or alternatively a system that allows consumers access to low cost loans to spread high connection costs over a longer period.
The DCMS is only looking for five to ten potential pilots and is considering funding for each in the £500,000 to £3,300,000 ranges. The higher figure being the cap that any single supplier can win, so this time BT cannot win all £10m, though as with existing projects the bidder is expected to contribute towards costs and any solutions have to be completed within 24 months.
The biggest challenge for the final 5% of the UK, is that the properties will be over very dispersed areas, so any attempts to utilise a community build FTTH network may prove to be very difficult particularly as the villages of 200-300 homes will most likely be covered within the main 95% projects.
For existing alt-net projects pushing the subsidy based networks deeper into their heartlands is not likely to be popular and may lead to more conflict between those who have in their hearts their communities interest, versus those who claim community interest but sense a few years of hard work with some financial stability provided by public subsidy.
It is interesting though to see the difference now on where the UK is focusing funding, while it is believed that in Germany they are looking at something 25% FTTH coverage, but this full fibre coverage is likely to come from €20 billion of funding across Germany with the FTTH replacing the existing VDSL networks in the larger cities. Oddly when the UK Government proposed ultra-fast ghettos via the super-connected cities scheme this stalled over EU State Aid funding and was reduced to municipal Wi-Fi and vouchers for businesses.