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Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Bid £2.12m to Build 1Gbps Fibre Network

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 (8:58 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 208)
fibre optic blue light abstract 2017

The Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council in Northern Ireland has agreed to bid for £2.12m of public funding from the UK Government’s new £200m programme, which could help the region to build a new “Gigabit” fibre optic ring around the region and improve rural connectivity.

The Government recently announced that £10m from the £200m fund had been set aside to setup 6 local pilots of “full fibre” (FTTP/H) broadband / Ethernet networks, which will aim to “test innovative ways” of using the service (e.g. vouchers and opening up public sector assets etc.) to connect businesses, homes and public sector sites (here).

Sadly Northern Ireland was not included in any of the initial pilot areas, although that doesn’t mean local authorities can’t start designing and submitting their own bids to the central UK Government’s related Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) scheme / challenge fund. Under this approach local bodies are expected to leverage local investment and activity to stimulate more Gigabit capable “full fibre” connections in their areas.

A meeting was held last night to discuss precisely this.

Council Decision(s)s Required

It is recommended that Members approve:

1. The development of a full application to Broadband UK for a funding package in the region of £2.12 million that would establish a ‘Gigabit’ fibre ring in the Borough. If successful, external expert assistance to prepare the bid will be required with an estimated cost of £10,000.

2. A joint Expression of Interest is also being coordinated by Belfast City Council for all Northern Ireland Councils. It proposes an extension of the current ‘voucher’ scheme, to which all businesses can apply to assist with ‘Superfast’ broadband connections.

3. The organisation of a Broadband Conference on 27th September at a cost in the region of £2,500.

We should point out that all of this is separate to the recently announced £150 Million DUP + Conservative Party deal for Northern Ireland’s broadband infrastructure (here), which is currently stuck in limbo due to the on-going political deadlock over wider issues.

Otherwise four delivery methods have been stipulated under the LFFN programme and the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Expression of Interest (EOI) envisages using three of them: Public Sector Anchor Tenancy, a Gigabit Voucher Scheme and Full Fibre Upgrades for Public Sector Sites.

Detail of the Borough’s Proposal

Full Fibre Network operating at Gigabit speeds in the Borough would mean that our telecoms infrastructure would be fully ‘future proofed’. It would provide the opportunity to cost effectively extend fibre to many more business and domestic premises borough-wide.

The following are the main aims and conditions of this new government fund:

* Bids may come from any public sector body, or group of bodies in the UK.

* By submitting an EOI, help with formulating a full bid will be provided by Broadband UK (BDUK).

* Local Full Fibre Networks will be fully future proofed.

* Capital funding only, no revenue funding, or contribution to admin costs is eligible.

* Match funding is not required, however BDUK are more likely to support proposals which either have co-investment from (either capital funding, or committed service charges over several years), or those projects that are most likely to encourage additional investment from other parties.

* Results will be known later in 2017.

* All LFFN funding should be disbursed no later than March 2021.

* Four delivery methods have been stipulated and the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon EOI envisages the use of three of them namely, Public Sector Anchor Tenancy, a Gigabit Voucher Scheme and Full Fibre Upgrades for Public Sector Sites.

Under the proposed plan the borough would aim to cover existing Business Centres at Banbridge and CIDO, Bluestone and Mayfair, plus the proposed Digi-Hub provision for the Borough and the proposed new Leisure Centre and new Southern Regional College Campus. Connection of the three main civic buildings will then complete the “Gigabit Ring“.

The total number of Gigabit connections has been estimated at 881 business and 1,845 domestic premises, which isn’t especially big but then the improved local infrastructure might also help to facilitate the introduction of wider broadband deployments at a later date.

A joint EoI is separately being coordinated by Belfast City Council for all NI Councils. It proposes an extension of the current “voucher” scheme, to which all businesses can apply to assist with the installation of “superfast broadband” connections. Belfast City Council has been coordinating the current scheme for the last three years and to date over 50 local businesses have received vouchers, each valued at £3,000.

The new proposal and related issues are due to be discussed at a special conference on 27th September 2017, which is titled “Broadband – Local Needs, Local Solutions” and will be hosted by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council in the Craigavon Civic and Conference Centre.

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