£200m scheme for rural Full Fibre gets underway
DCMS has launched the latest strand in its plans to get the UK to 100% full fibre coverage by 2033 and this revolves around a £200 million fund that will be used to deliver FTTP to public buildings in rural areas and support a voucher scheme that residents and business can access to help them to get a full fibre service.
Our decision to tackle some of the hardest to reach places first is a significant shift in Government policy and will be instrumental in delivering our plans for a nationwide full fibre broadband network by 2033. Our rollout of superfast broadband transformed the UK’s digital landscape, and our modern Industrial Strategy is focused on investing in the infrastructure that will make Britain fit for the future.DCMS Secretary of State Jeremy Wright
The new programme is called the Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme and is meant to be taking an outside in approach so that those areas least likely to see a commercial operator roll-out full fibre will be addressed. In work done by DCMS they have apparently identified the 10% of UK premises that are likely to not get full fibre commercially under current or expected plans.
A £200 million fund to tackle some 3 million premises is not going to go very far, if the intervention cost was £1,800 per property this would deliver just 111,000 premises, so clearly the scheme is either hoping that this money will stimulate a lot more commercial roll-out or that further sums of money will be added to the voucher fund over time.
The programme is heading down the digital pump/hub path mentioned in the 2009 Digital Britain report and by the House of Lords and campaigners a number of times since then. The aim is to deliver FTTP to a public sector building such as a school, health site or community hall with the hope that this will encourage the company delivering this FTTP service to accept the vouchers from the scheme and offer residential and SME type full fibre services to the surrounding area, or reduce the costs for others who want to build out a service from this hub.
Who is going to be build the hubs is unknown and once the weekend is over we will chase to see if more information is available on who will be building the hubs or are we going to be going through a full procurement process in the next year. Another area will be chasing is the voucher scheme and how these will work.
The rural gigabit voucher scheme will offer up to £1,500 for residents and £3,500 for small business to encourage take-up of FTTP services. The idea based on our reading so far is that those firms rolling out the hubs can look at recouping a large chunk of the costs of any subsequent roll-out to areas near the hub they built, rather than having to gamble on payback periods of five to ten years from monthly service subscriptions. What level of scrutiny will be in place to avoid the voucher scheme being a license to print money and whether a clawback scheme like the Superfast Broadband contracts will exist is something we do not know at this time.
The initial trial hubs are going to serve 31 schools in Cornwall, Northumberland and Wales and no doubt as the hubs go live we will learn more about each individual one and what the impact for residents and businesses in the area will be. We have found each school and link to its location on our broadband maps, so that people can see how rural each one is and the sub 24 Mbps postcodes highlighted. In some cases superfast broadband is already available, but as the roll-out is about the shift to a fully fibred up United Kingdom this is to be expected. In some cases full fibre is already fairly close too in the form of Openreach GPON services.
|Blisland Primary Academy||Cornwall||map|
|Braddock C of E Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Calstock Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Darite Primary Academy||Cornwall||map|
|Delaware Primary Academy||Cornwall||map|
|Grade-Ruan C of E School||Cornwall||map|
|Mevagissey Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Sithney Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|St Erme with Trispen Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|St Kew Atlantic Centre of Excellence Academy||Cornwall||map|
|Madron Daniel (previously St Maddern's) C of E School||Cornwall||map|
|St Mellion C of E Voluntary Aided School||Cornwall||map|
|St Mewan Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|St Winnow C of E School||Cornwall||map|
|Trannack Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Trythall Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Wendron C of E Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Werrington Community Primary School||Cornwall||map|
|Eaglesfield Paddle CE Primary School||Cumbria||map|
|Holme St Cuthbert Primary School||Cumbria||map|
|Rosley C of E School||Cumbria||map|
|Acomb First School||Northumberland||map|
|Cambo First School||Northumberland||map|
|Cambois Primary School||Northumberland||map|
|Ellingham C of E Aided Primary School||Northumberland||map|
|New Hartley First School||Northumberland||map|
|St Michael's C of E Primary School||Northumberland||map|
|Tweedmouth Prior Park First School||Northumberland||map|
The hub approach is one people have been keen to try out but from what we can see of the RGC so far there is no guarantee that a hub location will mean full fibre is available at residential monthly pricing for those living nearby. The benefits for the schools though may make the cost of intervention worthwhile in its own right, but until the costs are known for each school/hub linked up it is hard to judge.
We should highlight that the RGC does not replace the Local Full Fibre Network scheme or existing Superfast Broadband programmes, the aim seems to be to create a different delivery approach to try and solve some of the existing superfast not-spots at the same time as making sure these areas are not left behind in the race to full fibre.
These 31 initial sites will be followed by additional locations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, with the next locations announced later this year.
There are a lot of unknowns around the RGC but having survived the unknowns from the early days of the BDUK process we will no doubt learn a lot more in the next few months.