Newsletter — November 2013

Topics in this edition:

  • New BT data received
  • Rural Community Broadband Fund
  • Evidence from Cornwall rollout shows broadband benefits
  • Questions and Answers

New data received from BT

Regular readers will be aware that the CSW Broadband contract was signed in May 2013. Because of the quality of the data that we collected through our Local Broadband Champions we were able to bring in an additional £1,422,264 through the procurement, which needed to be added in to the contract. In order for that to happen, the proposed coverage for the additional money had to be modelled by BT. Revised data was received from BT on 29th October and approved by the Project Board. This has now been sent to BDUK for State Aid approval. The revised data has resulted in an additional 6,480 premises being connected to the fibre network over the number that was in the original contract – which is excellent news!

The total number of homes and businesses that are scheduled for connection to the fibre network are now 51,000 on top of the commercial rollout and 40,776 of these should achieve superfast speeds.

We have regularly reported on the work that is being carried out, and have given frequent updates on progress. As part of that process new shape maps have now been produced and are available on our website: http://www.cswbroadband.org.uk/the-project/latest-maps/nga-network-coverage-map/

We are regularly asked why the maps don’t show more detail, for instance roads and place names. The reason for that is quite simple – it is because we don’t have information that is accurate down to that level of detail.

As we have explained over the past couple of months, BDUK require that coverage is reported by postcodes, however telecoms infrastructure does not follow postcodes – which is not surprising since the original copper network has evolved over more than 100 years – long before postcodes were invented.

Furthermore, as desktop and on-the-ground survey work is carried out it may be that an area that has been investigated has been found not to be deliverable within the current budgets. This may be because the geography or topography are more challenging than had been considered, or because the original cabinets are in different locations from those which the old records had shown, or because the power supply is too far away from the proposed cabinet. As distance from the cabinet is a main condition for receiving superfast broadband, a few hundred metres could make all the difference as to which properties may (or may not) be able to achieve superfast speeds. As some areas drop out of superfast coverage others will be brought in for investigation – which is why we have regular updates of our maps.

The maps that are published today (as with all previous maps) show high level information only and are therefore purely illustrative of which areas are now under investigation for the provision of superfast broadband. They do, however, give a good indication of the percentage of the area that will be able to achieve superfast speeds. It should be remembered that those areas that are shaded in grey or black are covered under the commercial rollout and those areas that are white are still awaiting additional funding – and we are exploring every avenue to find more money for the rollout!

As the project progresses the areas where superfast becomes available will be shaded in green, and over time most of our project area, including hopefully some of the white areas, will be turned green.

Rural Community Broadband Fund

We have been discussing with some communities the potential for submitting bids to the DEFRA Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF). We have not been in a position until now to do this as we did not know where the final areas were that would not receive superfast coverage under the main contract. Once State Aid approval is received this sets the benchmark and we would, in theory, be able to proceed with the bids, however the practicality of doing so is questionable on two counts:

  1. The timescales involved. All work to be carried out under RCBF must be complete, invoiced and paid for by March 2015. This would be extremely challenging bearing in mind the length of time it has taken with the main contract just to get to the stage we are now. We also still do not yet have State Aid approval for the main contract, and do not know when BDUK will issue that. Therefore, the chances of being able to roll out a superfast network to what are by definition the most difficult parts of the county and to complete the contractual work within 15 months are virtually zero.
  2. The Government has announced that £250m additional funding will be made available to reach 95% superfast coverage across the country. We do not yet know how much of that money will come to our project, or when, or whether match funding will be required (which will be a challenging ask given the state of Local Government finances!). If we were able to proceed with RCBF bids then it would mean taking resource away from the main project (a significant risk) and it would appear that the additional percentage gained through RCBF funding would simply be deducted from our share of the £250m

Therefore to proceed with RCBF bids would put the main project at risk, may not be deliverable within the timescales, and any benefit would be deducted from the next tranche of main funding anyway.

For these reasons we have decided that unless the RCBF criteria change considerably then we would not be able to proceed with bids to this fund, although we are still actively seeking alternative sources of funding to ensure that we get maximum coverage.

Evidence from Cornwall rollout shows broadband benefits

Cornwall was one of the original broadband pilots so is considerably ahead of CSW broadband in terms of its rollout. A lot of lessons have been learned, from which we will benefit. A new report has been published by SERIO at Plymouth University and Buckman Associates, which shows that the network is already providing a major economic boost to SMEs in the region.

In fact, six out of every ten (58 per cent) SMEs surveyed said their business is growing because of the new technology, whilst more than a quarter (26 per cent) have either created or safeguarded jobs as a direct result of the efficiency and innovation that superfast broadband encourages. As well as the reported increase in jobs and revenues, over a third of businesses completing the survey (37.5%) reported that superfast broadband had helped their business to generate new sales, with a quarter (24 per cent) of that group pointing to new trade overseas.

We look forward to seeing similar results for our area

Questions and Answers

I am in a white area on the map – what does this mean in practice?

The white areas will get the Universal Service Commitment, which means that 100% of premises will get a minimum of 2Mbps, but in reality many will get more than that. In practice you could get anything from 2 to 23.9Mbps, at which point it would become superfast. As stated previously, it is impossible to say exactly what speeds will be achieved until the on-the-ground surveys are complete and in many cases until the upgrades have taken place. As information becomes available it will be published on the CSW Broadband website – www.cswbroadband.org.uk. We plan to publish a rolling12-month programme

We recognise that this project is a stepping stone to the European targets for 2020 of all premises connected at 30 Mbps and 50% at 100 Mbps, but additional funding will be required to make this happen. The government has announced funds of £250m, but we do not as yet know when or how these will be made available to projects. In addition we are actively investigating any and all other funding sources. We aim to increase the fibre footprint as soon as money becomes available

Can’t you at least put roads onto the Map?

The problem we have is in trying to manage expectations. Quite clearly, with telecoms infrastructure being based on historical (and sometimes very lengthy) routings the postcodes actually bear very little relevance to where the services will eventually be offered. Therefore if we were to put roads etc onto the maps we would very quickly have people wanting to know why their property was on the edge of a designation and what that means. Equally, we could have people who are clearly marked as under investigation and where, for one reason or another, it is actually not possible to upgrade the local cabinet or there may be issues with the copper network, both of which would prevent the delivery of superfast broadband.

That is why, until the survey results for each area are known, we describing them as “under investigation” and why the maps are not more detailed. As soon as we have any information to share we will be making it publicly available – clearly it is in our interests to get the information out as quickly as possible and we are endeavouring to do just that.

The maps on the website are therefore not intended to show specific locations but to give an indication of the overall coverage in terms of awaiting further funding, under investigation and commercial rollout.

It looks as though the decisions were made on a postcode basis, excluding properties in certain postcode areas even though they are served by the same distribution cabinet as others in postcode areas that are included.

You are correct about the shading on the map being calculated by postcode areas. This is the standard BDUK methodology. Clearly telecoms infrastructure does not align with postcodes, which is one reason why we are saying that the actual rollout will depend on on-the-ground surveys and that the map is indicative only.

Some areas local to the exchange are still white, is this because they are deemed to receive a sufficiently good service without being upgraded?

It is possible that properties close to the exchange are on exchange only lines – in other words they do not have a cabinet between the exchange and their property and so are unable to benefit from the technology that is being used for the main areas. As with all other white areas we are anticipating that technological improvements and additional funding will help us to ensure that we achieve full coverage.

Frequently asked general broadband questions can be found on our website at:

http://www.cswbroadband.org.uk/the-project/frequently-asked-questions

Questions about the contract or rollout can be found at:

http://www.cswbroadband.org.uk/the-project/bduk-contract-qas

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