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Scottish Gov Stops Community Broadband Scotland Scheme UPDATE

Thursday, January 25th, 2018 (8:53 am) - Score 2,816
scotland name map

In an unsurprising development the Highlands and Islands Enterprise has announced that their Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) initiative, which provided public funding to help setup new alternative broadband networks in very remote rural areas, is coming to an end.

Instead the team behind CBS is to go through somewhat of a role change to become the HIE Digital Communities Team, which will continue to support delivery of CBS’s existing projects while also refocusing on providing assistance to the Scottish Government’s new Reaching 100% (R100) programme.

The outcome will come as no surprised because had CBS continued in its current form then it would have conflicted with the R100 programme, which recently committed £600 million of public investment (here and here) in order to make “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) capable networks available to 100% of Scotland by the end of 2021 (March 2022 when viewing as a financial year).

Zoe Laird, Head of Communities Infrastructure at HIE, said:

“We thank all of the communities who have engaged with CBS for their support, hard work and passion over the years. Some fantastic results have been achieved and the R100 programme looks set to have a transformative impact and truly bridge the digital divide.”

At the last count we believe that around 20-30 communities had either received financial support from CBS or were in the process of applying for it, which often resulted in the construction of alternative fixed wireless broadband networks. However last year’s collapse of UK ISP AB Internet (here), which had received a big chunk of funding from CBS, showed that such work is rarely conducted without risk or challenge.

Meanwhile some community projects had also complained about delays with the admin side of CBS and securing funding approval (here), although in fairness the scheme had a difficult balancing act to play when assessing risk (as per the above example). Bigger network plans could also attract additional interest and delay from the EU due to State Aid rules.

The focus will now switch back to the Scottish Government, which has already begun the procurement exercise for their R100 programme and this is expected to run until the end of 2018. Hopefully we will get some solid details about their technology choices and deployment strategy either at the end of 2018 or during early 2019, which is about when the current £428m Digital Scotland (DSSB) project with BT (Openreach) is due to end.

UPDATE 26th Jan 2018

We’ve managed to get a list of all the CBS projects, funding and their current phases (August 2017 data). CBS project activity since 2012 has been delivered in two phases to date. Table 3.1 below gives a summary of the 18 individually funded projects in Phase 1. These have approved capital funding, making up 13 community projects, three of which are in the second or third phase to extend existing networks to more premises – Locheilnet CIC, Mearns Internet Initiative and Stobo-Dawyck Community Broadband Network.

Table 3.2 presents the Phase 2 pipeline projects which are currently at various stages of development. On top of that CBS has been working with three smaller projects whose circumstances have now changed, as shown at Table 3.3.

cbs_projects_and_phases

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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17 Responses
  1. Avatar Steve Minton

    Erm, there seems to be a rather large chunk of Scotland missing from your map! Or do you not recognise Shetland as being part of Scotland?

    • It’s a stock artistic illustration Steve and not created by us. I wouldn’t get too pedantic since it’s very clearly not supposed to be an accurate representation 🙂 . But if it makes you feel better, Shetland is probably hiding underneath the big ‘Scotland’ banner.

  2. Avatar F Cluness

    Why are you using stock photos from people who cut off parts of Scotland, why did you use them and the picture in the first place? Like the snp to always blame someone else, this time at least you can’t blame Westminster. Sort it!

  3. Avatar Marty

    Some people can find fault’s After you’ve been kind enough too give them a new skipping rope.

  4. Actually, damn all has been achieved: CBS, despite good efforts by several of its field managers, has proven so process-bound that it was incapable of actually delivering anything. We wasted more than four years and two failed procurements through them, killed by their institutional incompetence, lack of leadership and intransigence. When I put in an FoI request on them, they’d spent (after three years) £4.5M to deliver wireless broadband (typically at c. 4-10Mb/s) to 1100 properties. That arithmetic does not show them in a good light. Many other projects have simply failed because of their approach, whilst they tried to push us to accepting a technically and commercially incompetent bid from AB Internet, which we rejected on just those grounds. AB of course then went bust, with others now trying to pick up the pieces. And, despite the listing in the report and the article, that final £70 promised repeatedly to Balquhidder, has simply never materialised.

    • Avatar Sisyphus

      Not quite the view of ekosgen in attached document

      https://www.sra.scot/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/ReviewofCommunityBroadbandScotland2017-finalreportforpublication.pdf

      Somewhate to be expected as per list of Stakeholders consulted which does not include any communities like Richard’s

    • Avatar Whistleblower

      Richard

      Could be a good proportion of £4.5m covered cost of raft of recruits to CBS in 2015 including expanded management team.

      Most of live projects listed used De-minimus State Aid process and were developed in the main by “field managers” prior to this expansion who you may find may not to have a role within the new HIE Digital Communities Team.

      Let you draw your own conclusions.

    • Avatar Whistleblower

      I think an FOI on how much CBS spent on external consultancy may provide an indication on the real financial winners from this project

    • Avatar Whistleblower

      Extract from ekosgen report
      Issues with the CBS aggregated model approach have hampered the progress of 13 pipeline projects in a number of ways. Procurement for these projects proved to be problematic after the expiry of the BDUK State Aid in June 2015. Use of the General Block Exemption Regulations was discussed as an interim solution until the establishment of a new BDUK scheme. However, CBS believed that negotiations with the EU would be protracted and chose to wait on the new scheme instead. This delayed all projects wishing to go out to procurement.

      Lived experience – which went beyond “discussion” of use of General Block Exemption Regulations (GBER) read on

      A project in Fife spent several months going through CBS Open Market Review (OMR) and State Aid Public consultation with CBS clearly specifying the planned use of GBER in the State aid public consultation document – this took place in autumn 2015

      The project were “encouraged” by CBS to start the procurement process including from Highland and Island Enterprises PR people looking for good news story at the time.

      The “project” was a bit nervous about the risks of using GBER (as it had not been used in UK for a broadband project) but were given reassurances by CBS and its external consultants and the procurement was set fair to kick off at start of March 2016 . Alas within days phone call to project – CBS were pulling the plug on the use of GBER because of the risk and concerns about its fitness for purpose and decision to await the new BDUK scheme as yet with no date on its availability.

      Project never did receive written confirmation of this decision from CBS in writing (a common practice of CBS not to put things in writing ?) and it is worth mentioning that the aforementioned phone call did not come from a senior member of CBS and was left to local Adviser.

      Cosequence of this among other things

      Sucked life out of project and it came to a standstill awaiting new BDUK Scheme 6 months later

      Once new BDUK Scheme was announced the Open Market Review and Public Consultation had to be done all over again

      Public funding to cover staff salaries and other additional costs down the drain
      Damaged credibility with communities

      I could go on but the most ironic and amusing aspect of this was behaviour of CBS and their highly paid consultants. It was as if the intended use of GBER never happened especially financial compensation from CBS for all the expense incurred.

      I you doubt the veracity of the above here is extract from State aid public consultation document issued in 16 October 2015 by CBS

      The Fife Community Broadband Project believes our programme complies with EU State Aid guidance. Any public funding for this project will be awarded under the EU State Aid-approved Highlands and Islands Enterprise General Block Exemption Regulations (GBER II Article 52) scheme for broadband infrastructure – delivered through the Community Broadband Scotland programme.

      document is still in in public domain and here it is

      https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.hie.co.uk/common/handlers/download-document.ashx%3Fid%3D42a3dff5-0b0e-4d8d-9aaa-dfb95ec3be39&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwitnYKuxoXZAhWMK8AKHdvtABEQFggEMAA&client=internal-uds-cse&cx=009417199963027937737:ew1loi549xq&usg=AOvVaw0LeGusmt-_wlPTNB4gZFGn

  5. Avatar Whistleblower

    You may also find that if you dig a bit deaper that the due diligence and risk assessment of AB internet on Gigaplus Argyll project by CBS and its consultants (who are now advising Scottish Govt on R100) may not all it could have been.

    Could this be related to the rush to get contracts signed before end of BDUK State Aid scheme in 2015?.

  6. Avatar Whistleblower

    Even Whistleblower is not infallible

    especially financial compensation from CBS for all the expense incurred.

    should read

    especially following request for financial compensation …….

  7. Avatar Sisyphus

    Good work Whistleblower a couple of bon mot for you

    Report
    Farrpoint technical advisers are also in the process of assessing the technical, commercial, operational and financial considerations for using SWAN24 as a source of backhaul for community projects which would reduce the total capex and opex required to deliver them.

    Comment
    CBS were asked to look at the use of SWAN backhaul originally in 2015 including lining up pilot projects in South Of Scotland to help iron out technical, commercial, operational and financial considerations

    Report
    The CBS team could be deployed to encourage and work with communities to be innovative and build networks where vouchers can be used to link premises to community schemes or R100.

    Several communities discussed this approach with CBS several years back using voucher schemes that were available at time – CBS response it was being looked at with the assistance of their consultants

    Suppose you cant hurry these things and better late than never on both the above ………………..

    • Avatar Sisyphus

      Thanks Whistleblower

      maybe indication of where some of £4.5M mentioned by Richard ended up ??????

    • Avatar Whistleblower

      Sisyphus

      Re SWAN AND VOUCHERS comments

      Could this be a metaphor in your experience of dealing with CBS ?

      According to the Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top.

  8. Avatar Whistleblower

    My work is done

    eksogen report has some good recommendations going forward but what rankled me most was the list of Stakeholders consulted – who chose those?

    The communities with poor broadband are surely the most important Stakeholders and should have been asked their views on their experiences in trying to develop community broadband projects to better inform the R100 project.

    I am off now to Reach my 100% and fight my inner Sisyphus

    • Avatar Sisyphus

      I wish you well and look out soon for “Anatomy of a CBS project”

      Bet that got some people in the North’s attention only kidding or am I !!!!

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