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RCBF Fails Target to Give 70000 Rural Premises Superfast Broadband

Saturday, July 5th, 2014 (7:50 am) - Score 1,009
fell end rural fibre optic digging

The government’s controversial £20 million Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF), which originally aimed to help remote rural areas in the last 5-10% of England gain access to superfast broadband, will fall well short of its original target to help up to 70,000 premises and is instead only set to pass between 20-25,000 premises.

The fund has faced considerable difficulties ever since it first opened up for bids in 2012 because of a conflict with the national and BT dominated Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme, which currently aims to make superfast Internet connectivity available to 95% of the population by 2017.

State Aid rules prevent RCBF funding from being used to overlap an existing NGA broadband network, such as the one that BT is building through the BDUK process, but in order to avoid this altnets (smaller ISPs) need to know where BT’s network will go. Sadly many alternative ISP schemes have struggled to get access to this vital coverage and speed data due to objections and buck-passing between both BT and local councils, which is despite BDUK pushing for the release (here).

In fairness BDUK’s roll-out is fluid and the recent addition of another £250m has once again encouraged councils to consider further coverage expansion. This, in combination with the fact that deployment plans can change depending upon the issues faced by engineers on the ground (e.g. Cornwall’s original target of 80% coverage ended up being lifted to 95%), make it hard to give reliable coverage data until after the programme has finished.

Never the less a new update from the Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which was recently uncovered by ISPreview.co.uk while scouring through Government documents for new information, claims to examine the impact of RCBF investment on premises with the potential to receive superfast broadband.

It reveals that, based on contracted projects a total of 2,118 domestic, business and other premises (between 2013/14 and 2014/15) in hard-to-reach rural areas are anticipated to have the potential to receive superfast broadband as a result of RCBF investment in England. These premises are all within the first 3 community projects to be approved for funding from the RCBF (here, here and here).

The update states that more projects are “expected to be contracted in due course” and readers will note that a growing number of previously proposed RCBF schemes and funding have now found themselves being merged with the BDUK and BT scheme at Local Authority level (17 schemes in all). It also confirms that the RCBF had an original target of up to 70,000 premises to have the potential to receive superfast broadband by mid-2015, but this will now be missed because it’s proven more expensive to connect people than first envisaged.

DEFRA’s RCBF Statement – Future Target Expectations

At the time the RCBF was launched in November 2011, it was envisaged that the maximum amount of grant the RCBF would normally provide per premise would be based on a benchmark of up to £300 (excluding VAT). This meant that if the RCBF of £20 million was fully utilised then 66,666 premises would be given the potential to receive superfast broadband by mid-2015. It was recognised at the time that the final target figure could be lower depending on the average costs per premise and grant rate approved.

In the event, the costs per premises passed in the final hard to reach areas have proved to be significantly higher than originally anticipated, and this has been a factor in reducing the numbers of premises capable of being passed under the Fund. Applications submitted to the Fund are expected to result in approximately 20-22 projects, passing between around 20-25,000 premises, for areas not in scope of the broadband projects under the main Government rollout programme.

Seventeen of these projects are led by Local Authorities and are due to be delivered as extensions to existing Local Authority contracts under the main rollout programme. As such these 17 projects will be reported by DCMS as part of the DCMS Broadband Performance Indicator on superfast broadband, rather than through this RCBF indicator.”

The Fund itself has been closed to new bids since last year and the current Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) will also be coming to an end on 31st March 2015. Suffice to say that the outcome will probably not come as a huge surprise to anybody and the Government’s recent move to launch the £10 million Innovation Fund (here) seems to be another stab at the same area, albeit on terms that are arguably more open and favourable to non-BT projects.

The Government said this week that they plan to use the £10m fund to establish how much investment will be needed to lift the national superfast broadband target from 95% to 100% (here).

Leave a Comment
25 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Conder

    A complete walkover. BT stopped any altnets in their tracks by their clever manipulation of councils. Even the full force of the PAC couldn’t break through the NDAs the silly councils had signed.
    How hard the monopoly fights to protect its obsolete assets.
    History is going to remember this.
    The digital divide grows ever wider as public money is wasted on FTTC to make a few go faster, and the slow even slower.
    Digital Britain is a Superfarce.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “How hard the monopoly fights to protect its obsolete assets.”

      Actually, we know of areas where BT isn’t fighting at all, more like abandoning ship. And where BT still serves with telecom products, they are heavily involved in using the wrong, non future-proofed technology, like VDSL, acting like a beggar for taxpayer’s money.

      Thye digital divide will be more and more a divide between BTs outdated services (if you can call it a service at all), and non-BT areas with up-to-date telecom prpoducts. And this in a postcode lottery fashion.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Just more excuses, the altnet’s talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk, even when presented with funding they don’t take it up.

      Yeah blame BT its a nice handy excuse to have, if it looks tough just blame someone else instead of practicing what you preach.

      Has the £20 million been spent or did much of it go unused does anyone know

    • Avatar No Clue

      What funding? The article clearly states…
      “State Aid rules prevent RCBF funding from being used to overlap an existing NGA broadband network, such as the one that BT is building through the BDUK process, but in order to avoid this altnets (smaller ISPs) need to know where BT’s network will go. Sadly many alternative ISP schemes have struggled to get access to this vital coverage and speed data due to objections and buck-passing between both BT and local councils, which is despite BDUK pushing for the release (here).”

      How are they supposed to get funding or roll out in an area if there is no way of knowing what areas they are allowed to do?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Unless an area is marked as bduk you would assume it is not and get the funding , like I say poor excuses

    • Avatar James Harrison

      Unless an area is marked as bduk you would assume it is not and get the funding , like I say poor excuses

      As someone who has actually done this process in the real world – see the Northmoor project in the RCBF stats? – to get BT to say that they were not planning to build in the area took over 6 months with a lot of pressure applied at various levels. You absolutely cannot assume based on the maps because the maps are too low resolution and nobody works off them. You have to have explicit approval from BT, directly – they have to “descope” the area, this involves a public state aid consultation process and so on. BT have absolutely no incentive or interest or compulsion from external agencies to approve altnet builds. It could quite easily have dragged on beyond 6 months if we hadn’t applied a massive amount of pressure.

      You are quite right that £300 per property in these areas was woefully inadequate and that whoever set this target based on that funding was clearly very optimistic or not competent enough in terms of knowledge of technology to make that judgement correctly. The fact that the process on the RCBF side has no matching process within the BDUK framework plans in terms of how to descope areas so altnets can build with RCBF money is a serious blocker, because it means BT have to basically give permission for their competitors to receive public funding. If you can’t see that that is a problem you’re barking up the wrong tree. Note also that 20-25k properties worth of funding went straight to BT under BDUK (only 500 properties out of the RCBF fund are done by someone other than BT afaik, the Northmoor build) – do you think this is because they offered a technical solution that was going to last a long time and thus be a sensible use of public funding, or do you think this is because their competitors were blocked?

      The failures of the RCBF/BDUK are something I could go on about for days, though – there were a lot of mistakes made in how the processes were set up.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “more excuses, the altnet’s talk the talk but they don’t walk the walk, even when presented with funding they don’t take it up.”

      More of stupid remarks. There are many alternative small telecom companies, however, most will not want to compete against a taxpayer-funded BT bully in the same area. The BDUK is preventing many areas from seeing innovative nextgen solutions, and should be scrapped immediately. The RCBF pot was just a drop in the bucket, and has never made any significant difference.

      BTW.: Getting precise taxpayer-funded rollout maps from councils, even under Freedom of Information Act, is quite hard, sometimes impossible. We know from experience how they hide behind commercial non-disclosure clauses, for the sole purpose to prevent market competition, all with the aid of taxpayer’s money!

    • Avatar FibreFred

      You say the process is flawed James, it certainly sounds like it, why would you have to ask someone explicitly that they will not go into an area. Its back to front, it should be the other way around unless they explicitly say otherwise it should be assumed no overlap and you get your funding.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Gnewton you always speak of the “Can’t do” attitude , it was never more present than in a story like this . There must be thousands of properties where bduk has no plans to touch yet altnets just can’t or won’t do

    • Avatar gerarda

      @fibrefred – you just don’t get (probably deliberately) the effect of BTs cherry picking on altnets. There may be thousands of properties they are not going to roll out to but they make sure they are in such small clusters as to not be viable and if may any chance there is one large enough they will extend just enough from the surrounding area to ensure it is no longer viable.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      I just see more (lame) excuses, but no surprises

    • Avatar No Clue

      “As someone who has actually done this process in the real world – see the Northmoor project in the RCBF stats? – to get BT to say that they were not planning to build in the area took over 6 months with a lot of pressure applied at various levels.”

      Exactly BT wont say because if they do thats a potential area taken from under their nose.

      The processes are flawed and what BT get away with is beyond flawed. Only a fan boy would not comprehend it.

    • Avatar Gadget

      Gerarda – I think you are confusing cause and effect. The locations that are not viable are the precisely the small clusters whose size makes them fail economic criteria.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Exactly Gadget, one thing I will say is once bduk ends it won’t be the end of altnet excuses they’ll always have some. They didn’t do anything with these areas before bduk was touted and they won’t after. There’s only a few decent altnets out there that will actually do what they say they will, like gigaclear

    • Avatar gerarda

      I am not confusing cause and effect – BT have predatorily pursued Alnets for the last 10 years

    • Avatar Raindrops

      And ex-BE and O2 customers so it would seem from the latest ASA judgement against BT.

  2. Avatar FibreFred

    Pathetic and pathetic excuses, so now they realise it is expensive to reach these areas after all

    • Avatar Ignitionnet

      Indeed. You would have hoped BT already knew this but it seems not.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Bt have always known its the government that seem to have it wrong

    • Avatar DTMark

      ” now they realise it is expensive to reach these areas after all”

      .. you forgot to add the necessary line:

      “when using only a single supplier and with the funding coming solely from the taxpayer”.

      Happy to fix it for you.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      The fund is open to all DTMark no need to use a single supplier

    • Avatar DTMark

      The RCBF fund and the BDUK project cannot exist separately in isolation. It is impossible to operate one independently of the other.

      The BDUK approach removes commerciality from the equation.

      By removing commerciality you then remove private investment from multiple sources from the equation.

      Leaving only one player.

      While the BDUK contracts claim ‘commercial confidentiality’.

      The whole thing is so deeply flawed that a group of monkeys and a typewriter might have been more successful.

    • Avatar No Clue

      @Ignitionnet… LOL that sarcasm went right over (or probably through) its head.

  3. Avatar fastman2

    it is not easy to determine whether a community is in or out unitl you actually do a physical survery and Design – technolgy is increasing all the time and as you gwet a cleaer view of whats in the ground at a local level — there are a number of communities who were previouisly expected not build under BDUK but will now have 40 meg as a closer bespoke view of that community enabled a SFBB solution to be provided

  4. Avatar dragoneast

    I suspect that as usual in politics the unwritten objective was to do something to keep most people quiet for the least money, and as quickly as they could. It didn’t go according to plan and left some (still a minority) very dissatisfied. The politicians can live with that. I can’t think of an example where long-term infrastructure planning exists in this country. (Well, one but that was nearly a century ago if anyone can guess). It’s about electoral not infrastructure planning.

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