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GBP10m Competitive UK Rural Broadband Fund Now Open for Bids

Monday, Mar 24th, 2014 (9:23 am) - Score 1,199
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The Government’s Culture Secretary, Maria Miller (MP), has announced that their new £10 million Competitive Fund, which aims to “test innovative solutions to deliver superfast broadband services to the most difficult to reach areas” (i.e. the rural / final 5% of the United Kingdom), is now open for bids in three different categories.

The fund, which some view as a more accessible alternative to the troubled £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), has promoted itself as being open to bids from fixed wireless, mobile broadband and satellite broadband providers, as well as the usual array of fixed line ISP solutions.

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Potential suppliers will now be able to submit bids in 3 different categories.

Bid Categories

Technology – seeing whether a technology that works can be used in remote areas.

For example, suppliers may choose to bid for projects based on any of the following non-exclusive list of technologies:

* Fibre to the pole, kerb or basement or other ‘remote node’, making further incremental fibre upgrades to the parts of the existing copper network.

* Fibre direct to the premises.

* Fixed wireless access, including 4G LTE mobile spectrum for fixed broadband; and Satellite.

Operating models – trying novel operating models such as joining smaller networks together into a common larger network.

Examples of this could include:

* Upgrading disparate smaller networks to a common standard to aggregate into a larger, more viable network.

* Providing a commercial wrapper (e.g. Business Support Systems/ Operational Support Systems) standardising wholesale product portfolios from disparate networks to present a larger addressable market for ISPs; and

* Converting an established vertically-integrated network into a wholesale network and connecting to an ISP¿s systems to assess impact on commercial viability of the wholesale-only model compared to the vertically-integrated model.

Financial – testing innovative public / private funding models that could bring in new investment.

Examples of this could include:

* Establishing project finance vehicles to lease fibre infrastructure, leveraging private finance.

* Establishing a community delivery model that leverages social funding sources; and

* Establishing micro-finance loans for consumers to borrow to pay higher install costs over longer periods.

Maria Miller said that the new pilots for this fund, “will be instrumental in helping us understand how to overcome the challenges of reaching the most remote areas of the UK, and I hope to see a wide range of suppliers coming forward with innovative proposals.” Mobile operators, such as EE and Vodafone, have already prepared their own fixed wireless platforms and are expected to put in some bids.

Dan Rogerson, Rural Affairs Minister, said:

The aim of this fund is to help people living in very remote areas secure the benefits of superfast broadband. Fast and reliable broadband coverage is crucial in building a stronger economy and fairer society for farmers and all rural businesses to be able to compete and grow.”

A copy of the related Procurement Document is also available but it doesn’t give much away that hasn’t already been said above, except to confirm that, “DCMS is open to receiving responses to this ITT that propose solutions offering a ‘step change’ in capability and superfast speeds, while not being recognised Next Generation Access (NGA) networks“.

Tenderers are also advised that the related solutions can only be used to cover “basic broadband white areas, instead of all NGA white areas” and there appears to be a £3.3m funding cap on individual tenders (i.e. the maximum amount any one supplier can win).

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Suffice to say that £10m is just a drop in the ocean for remote rural areas but the design of this fund suggests that more funding could potentially be made available in the future, assuming effective solutions can be found.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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