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UPDATE BT Pays Itself to Help co-Fund Rural “Fibre Broadband” Roll-outs

Wednesday, Aug 24th, 2016 (3:09 pm) - Score 2,089

BT (Openreach) appears to have introduced a new twist on their existing Community Fibre Partnerships scheme, which is now offering grants worth up to £20,000 to help rural and digitally isolated communities get a faster “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) service installed.

Related partnerships tend to be made available to those living in the final 5% of UK premises, which usually reflects smaller communities that are not currently planned to benefit via the state aid supported roll-out of superfast (Broadband Delivery UK).

The existing partnership scheme offers related areas an alternative option via co-funded FTTC, which effectively requires local residents and businesses to cover any costs that rise above those of BT’s own commercial model for the area. Once agreed, 50% of the gap funding must be paid prior to work starting and the final 50% on completion.

However the new grant scheme introduces an additional twist to this approach by enabling BT to help local communities pay for their upgrade. Eligible communities can apply for match funding of up to £20,000 towards the cost of a new local fibre network, but only so long as the technology is capable of serving the local school.

The village of Ditcham in Hampshire (England) is one of the first to benefit, with BT providing a £17,500 grant to help bring “fibre broadband” to the Ditcham Park Schooland village and this will in turn also benefit local residents.

Chris Pickett, Chair of Governors at Ditcham Park School, said:

“The outstanding contributions from BT and Openreach to get this fibre optic network both designed and installed, whilst offering a very generous grant towards this community project, has ensured that our teachers and pupils can enjoy faster internet access. This will improve the opportunities we are able to offer to our pupils for the commencement of our new academic year.”

Kim Mears, Openreach’s MD of Infrastructure, said:

“Getting faster speeds to communities in the final few percent of the UK is a top priority for Openreach and the people of Ditcham are pioneering a new way to achieve this.

Nearly 90 per cent of households and businesses in Hampshire now have access to superfast speeds and this will rise to 95 per cent by the end of 2017, largely thanks to our commercial investment and our multi million pound partnership with Hampshire council.

More than 120 communities across the country have already signed up to our co-funded Community Fibre Partnerships scheme, with 60 already enjoying the benefits of superfast broadband. We hope that the availability of these new grants will encourage even more communities to work with us on bringing high-speed connectivity to their town or village.”

BT claims that the “new scheme greatly reduces the contribution needed from local residents,” although of course there will be some areas where a maximum grant of £20,000 simply won’t be enough cover the gap and in those locations the community will still be asked to help co-fund the remaining amount. Mind you a lot of these partnerships seem to come in at under the £20k mark.

However there’s no escaping that the new co-funded grant approach does seem to amount to BT paying itself for doing the work, which is a bit quirky. But if it results in more people being able to access superfast broadband and without a huge financial demand falling upon small communities then so much the better.

UPDATE 4:58pm

According to BT, the grant scheme is being funded by the operator’s Purposeful Business unit within BT Group, which exists to support its tech literacy ambitions (e.g. inspiring young people in the UK to embrace the role technology plays in their lives). The business wants to reach 5 million school children by 2020, thus the grant is about equipping schools with the high-speed connectivity they need to champion tech literacy. Obviously the surrounding communities benefit too.

Communities will also have access to BT’s Barefoot Computing programme for schools, which is aimed at equipping primary school teachers with the essential skills needed for them to deliver the IT curriculum. Many BT people are already said to have volunteered their time to deliver many of the training sessions for teachers.

BT also told ISPreview.co.uk that the paper work involved in the grant is very light and apparently all that’s needed is the OFTSED (or equivalent) registration number. After that BT checks availability / speed with the community, and then hopefully progresses to award the grant and move forward with the co-funded fibre roll out.

In addition, BT has set aside £2m for just the grants, at least so says their website.

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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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