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RCBF Approve Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe Broadband Project

Friday, December 27th, 2013 (11:29 am) - Score 674

The Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe Community Broadband Project in West Oxfordshire (England) has reportedly had its requested state aid funding of £200,287 from the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) approved, although a supplier has yet to be confirmed.

The £20m RCBF budget, which was established to help the UK’s final 5-10% of rural areas get superfast broadband, has been struggling to move forward because many local authorities and BT have refused to release vital postcode-based broadband speed and coverage (SCT) data due to it being deemed “commercially sensitive” (here).

The data is needed to help satisfy state aid rules and many RCBF projects have struggled to move forward without it, except of course those where BT has been chosen as the supplier. Another local West Oxfordshire scheme, Cotswolds Broadband, has recently been rejected by the RCBF (here) and some feared that the Northmoor, Moreton and Bablockhythe project might follow.

Happily the scheme now looks set to move forward after the Oxford Mail reported that its request for RCBF funding had gained full approval.

Graham Shelton, Chairman of Northmoor Parish Council, said:

This is a wonderful community achievement that has taken a truly enormous amount of effort from villagers, and from the leader of West Oxfordshire District Council right through to the Prime Minister himself. Importantly, we could not have got this far without the fantastic support of our district council, who are now handling the procurement process.”

The project, which is currently part of a public consultation until 3rd January 2014, aims to deliver download speeds of 24Mbps or more to 100% of premises (around 500 homes and businesses / 1,115 people) within its footprint by 2015. The schemes backers have also pledged to match the RCBF grant of £200,287 with their own funding.

The area is understood to have already been “de-scoped from the BT / Oxfordshire County Council [BDUK] project to roll out broadband to Oxfordshire“, although there’s still no word on a supplier and indeed we don’t expect to hear about a preferred bidder until towards the end of spring 2014. It will be interesting to see whether somebody other than BT is chosen to supply the service.

In related news we note that the West Oxfordshire District Council recently (11th December) recommended allocating £1.6m to extend high speed broadband coverage to reach “as many residential and business premises as possible across rural West Oxfordshire“. The council said it would be exploring all options to increase broadband coverage, including working with BT and alternatives like “high speed wireless networks and business models where the Council can generate a return on its investment will also be explored“.

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17 Responses
  1. Hmmm….

    … now let me guess who they will choose as their supplier? 🙂

    I suppose the basic story is:

    (0) make sure there are no “alternative” providers sniffing around
    (1) get BT to deem the area out of scope of current BDUK funding
    (2) apply for RCBF funding
    (3) conduct “open” tender – or whatever rubbish the councils do that supposedly passes for this
    (4) select BT as the preferred supplier

    One sure way to ensure that there is no danger of an overbuild if BT are chosen isn’t it?!?

    1. Avatar Harold Wren says:

      Having looked at the specification for this project, I don’t think BT _can_ bid for it – none of their products would deliver the requirements and it’s too small an area for them to do anything special. The project has requirements on minimum performance (10Mbps down and up under maximum worst-case conditions 100% of the time, 100Mbps down and up performance capability/bearer for 100% of lines) that BT wouldn’t meet with their FTTP or FTTC products.

      Don’t think that BT descoping themselves for a project they planned to bid for would make much sense, mind you – overbuild of BT planned areas can happen if another supplier wants to, just not if they’re using RCBF money (since that’s in conflict under state aid rules). Being out-of-scope would be negative for BT since it paints a clear target for non-BT networks that there’ll be a void where BT aren’t allowed to build _with BDUK money_. BT can of course still choose to overbuild if commercially sensible. Gigaclear for instance are moving into Stanton Harcourt at present, which is covered by BDUK.

      From what I hear, the RCBF spending difficulties are less about BT withholding data (though it doesn’t help, I’m sure) and more about DEFRA being exceptionally unhelpful/negative towards projects.

      Lastly – correction to the article, the £200k isn’t private investment from the “scheme’s backers”, but private investment by the supplier. That’s how RCBF works – grant that is matched in part by the supplier, based on expected take-up and so on. The scheme’s backers haven’t put anything in (aside from their time, presumably), as far as I can see.

    2. Excellent comments, thank you.

    3. Unless I am missing something, the project would not cover anything like 500 homes/businesses.

      I know the press article states “It will be put to use connecting at least 480 homes at Northmoor and hundreds more in surrounding areas”, but looking at Google there can’t be anymore than around 100 homes/businesses in Northmoor itself, and naff all in the remainder of the coverage area (assuming the area is as identified in the spec document Harold kindly provided a link for. The only other sizeable “settlement” I can see is the caravan park at Bablockhythe, which would surely only count as one “business” customer.

      On the assumption that 80/20 type rules-of-thumb would apply, then if I was prepared to commit ish £200k to such a project then I would just sort out Northmoor itself and not bother with the RCBF funding as the funding would bring nothing but admin pooh and associated grief and would certainly not impact the ultimate revenues to any real extent. I would also be able to offer current “superfast” speeds and not worry (at least initially) about 100 Mbps symmetrical to the home.

      Really hard to see this as being viable for anyone other than BT or a local community (not for profit) initiative.

      My initial guess would be that they will not get any viable bidders and then BT will come over the horizon to “save the day” with a solution that only goes as far as its current BDUK type rollouts (in terms of speed, percentage coverage etc).

    4. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Google for the state aid tender document for this project and it breaks the figures down by postcode area, which does seem to reach 500 or so premises.

    5. Thanks Mark, will have a look later today.

  2. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Based on the specs it will be very interesting to see who if anyone bids for this

    Great specs and what I’d be after myself if I was in charge

  3. Avatar buyer beware says:

    Can’t see 500 properties. Tender does not specify 100% properties so every property covered will have to look out for themselves because the minority will only look after themselves. Packages will be expensive and afforadable only for the minority working from home driving this project. Old people will not have an afforadable service. This has already happened in Fyfiled and Tubney. None of the major fibre based broadband companies will be interested because the supplier’s wholesale price will be more than current retail prices – likely £18.00 wholesale, BT is advertising fibre based broadband introductory price £7.50. Plus £180 installation. Service only for the wealthy should not be subsidised by tax payers at all.

  4. Avatar buyer beware says:

    Grant is a way to keep connection costs down it seems at least in the short term

    Many people have been wondering about the costs, and at this stage the sums are not done. Obviously a grant from central government would make a significant difference. In Eaton and Appleton (which did not apply for a government grant), however, they are quoting a one-off connection fee of about £100 and then a monthly fee of about £37. This fee covers the connection to your house. What you do with it after that is entirely up to you. Obviously a grant would help a lot to keep the connection costs down. Graham Shelton


  5. Avatar CrazyLazy says:

    “… BT have refused to release vital postcode-based broadband speed and coverage (SCT) data due to it being deemed “commercially sensitive”

    Yes commercially sensitive because there are loads of other organisations getting millions in hand outs and it may affect BTs business…. Errr hold on!

  6. This is still a shambles – superfast roll-out is 5 years old now, successive UK Governments have failed to get a handle on this – if indeed they ever wanted one. Having access to superfast and getting superfast speed (over 24 Mbps – EU & Ofcom 30 Mbps) is another.

    With a universal minimum target speed of 2 Mbps for all in the UK by December 2017. That should speak volumes as to any commitment. Can’t wait for the Election Promises on this for May 2015 or should they be called failed targets from the start.

  7. Avatar MikeW says:

    I was having another look at the specification for this project (thanks Harold Wrenn), and I noticed that the speed requirements make absolutely no statement as to whether they are download-only requirements, or bi-directional.

    In fact, the only mention of “download” comes from their quotation of BDUK standards, and there is no mention of upload at all.

    Because of the way they fail to highlight upload speed in any way whatsoever makes me think that they have no special requirement on upload (otherwise they would be sure to be clear about it), and that these requirements aren’t any harder to hit than (say) the Warwickshire (CSW) project, who also have the longer-term EU 100Mbps speeds in their targets.

    That would make this project perfectly open for BT to tender.

    1. Avatar buyer beware says:

      What did you make of the claim 480 homes and hundreds more? It seems about 400 so called properties are owned by a private business Green Wood Parks. What are the rules on state aid benefitting one private business? Babylockhythe is a 300 odd caravan park for holiday lets, according to its website. Thameside Court also owned by Green Wood Parks seems to be mobile homes. This explains why so few in the questionnaire are willing to pay for a premium service. Northmoor looks quite a scattered, small village, well under 100 properties total. I can’t see the ROI having matched the DEFRA grant, installed a network, run it, when there are perhaps a handful of customers. Has anyone done the cost per property ignoring the nonsense about 480 plus hundreds more properties?

    2. Avatar MikeW says:

      Reading the full website for the project (thanks bb) shows they do want symmetrical speeds, so does remove BT as a supplier that meets all requirements.

      I wonder why, if they can write the aim succinctly in the website, they fail to do so in the project specification. Very poor.

      The caravan park seems to be full of static caravans which are owned by the respective residents; the business of Green Wood Parks is only to lease the plot of land to each caravan. It seems some of the caravan owners treat them as residences, some as second homes, and some as holiday lets. Should any of those be denied broadband access?

      IIRC the postcode distribution shows around 300 properties of the 500 at this one location. It might be that this helps the project, as that one high-density cluster should be easy to cover.

    3. Avatar buyer beware says:

      @mikew Point taken, but if you live in the final 10%, are forced to rely on internet for essential work related tasks, you might not agree that what seem to be mainly second homes – caravans used for weekends/holiday lets – are a priority. I can’t see the ROI, there are not many properties where a premium service makes sense. If you are only in your caravan at weekends for example, or if you rent it to holiday makers for most of the year, are you going to subscribe to a premium caravan service in addition to a service you already pay for where you live fulltime? One to watch.

  8. Avatar buyer beware says:

    If anyone is interested another Oxfordshire consultation here


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