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Balquhidder Community in Scotland Build Own 1Gbps FTTP Broadband

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 (2:00 pm) - Score 2,048

The Balquhidder Community Broadband project, which is a Community Interest Company (CIC) that has won support from UK ISP Bogons and the Stirling Council in Scotland, has officially launched their new 1Gbps FTTP broadband network that will serve all 197 premises in the Balquhidder area.

Unfortunately many in the Balquhidder area are currently unable to obtain a decent broadband service over Openreach’s (BT) network, which is due to its remote location, mountainous terrain and the fact that most services are delivered over old Exchange Only Lines (EOL); these can be very expensive to upgrade.

A few years ago the BCB campaign was established to resolve this problem by building a new 1000Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network in the area. After a lot of hard work the network finally began construction in late 2017 and they’ve now reached a point where the development is mature enough to be given an official launch.

So far as we can tell the new network largely exists outside the scope of the current Digital Scotland project, while building of the BCB fibre began before the future R100 scheme had been fleshed out.

Richard Harris, BCB Director and Founder, said:

“Balquhidder, like much of rural Scotland, offers a high quality of life in an active community in stunning surroundings. And, like all those areas, it’s economic development and resilience have been crippled by the lack of effective communications. I’ve spent eleven years in efforts that have led to this project, during which time I’ve twice had to move growing companies out of Scotland because of poor communications.

I now run an international AI and augmented reality company, for which a reliable, high-speed internet connection is vital. Without this network we would soon have had to move out of the area altogether. With it, we can now do the opposite: start to attract more skilled individuals and other companies into the area.”

The deployment is starting with the community of Balquhidder, including some 190 properties in Balquhidder, Ballimore and Kirkton glens, in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. BCB are also putting in a backbone of around 32km of ducting from three active nodes, which will give them redundant loops around the area.

The first sector of the network (Stronvar) is now live, with approximately 8km of the backbone ducting installed and the first properties in this sector having already connected to the service. A lot of preparation work has also taken place for the build to Balquhidder Village and the Ballinluig, Gartnafuran clusters.

Margaret Brisley, Stirling Council’s Finance Chair, said:

“Access to high speed broadband and connectivity is a major issue for communities in rural Stirling, impacting on economic growth and access to services. The Balquhidder Community Broadband Project is an excellent example of a community providing a solution to this challenge, supported by Stirling Council and private sector partners.

The council recognises the leadership and commitment shown by the community and is delighted to work in partnership to deliver this project. Providing world class broadband connectivity to Balquhidder will be transformational, enabling and supporting the economic growth of the area whilst giving the community full access to services.”

Apparently the plan is to have the Monachyle Mhor hotel at the west end of the glen connected in time for its big food and music festival (http://mhorfestival.net) at the end of May. After that the goal is to have the vast majority of the glen connected by the end of 2018.

The project is funded in part by an initial £100,000 investment from Stirling Council, along with a similar investment from its commercial partner. ISPreview.co.uk understands that the total build budget comes to around £400k, plus an allowance for contingency. Most of the build costs are being met through: volunteer effort, investment from Stirling Council and match funding from Bogons.

However BCB said that negotiation over fibre and ducting costs, as well as the ability and enthusiasm of their volunteers to build their own tools (e.g. they have a self-laying mole plough that can be attached to a digger arm to reach over walls or fences and into soft ground), means they’re already optimistic about coming in under budget.

Meanwhile Bogons, which owns a rather unique nuclear bunker in Cultybraggan (near Comrie) that is being turned into a datacentre, has been giving significant help to the project. As we understand it, BCB have a 1Gbps Openreach EAD link to a cabinet at Stronvar, which routes back through the Strathyre exchange to Bogons nuclear bunker. From there, Bogons has 2 x 100Gbps links to the outside world.

Balquhidder is our first local project of this nature. Since our work with BCB started we have also now taken on wireless internet service provider provision for neighbouring Loch Tay [AB Internet]. We are looking to help other communities where the community is willing to do the digging and other works for us to install fibre,” said Brandon Butterworth, Director of Bogons Ltd.

balquhidder bcb fibre optic build wide

Apparently there is still a gap in the project’s funding and as a result they’ve been actively campaigning for the Government to launch a new business connectivity voucher scheme, which finally materialised last week (details here). Meanwhile residents typically pay £35 per month and a £135 one-off install fee in order to receive the 1Gbps unlimited service (symmetrical speeds). Extra capacity can easily be added to support growth.

The BCB project expects to “bring millions of pounds in economic gains“, which they claim will boost the local economy by improving jobs, diversity and resilience. Property prices are also expected to rise, while residents and businesses will be able to better access commercial and public services online.

Richard told ISPreview.co.uk that BCB already have more than 65% of properties committed to taking the new service and expect to “generate a modest operating profit“, which should be enough to pay back the private investment in the network over a “reasonable period“. The community retains ownership of all in-ground infrastructure.

Leave a Comment
21 Responses
  1. Avatar Shaun Marley says:

    Well done to all involved.

    1. Avatar Walter G M Willcox says:

      Hear hear !

  2. Avatar craski says:

    Great to hear of communities helping themselves. Is 197 premises the total target for the £400,000 funding? I’d happily invest £2000 to get access to a 1Gbps capable symmetric service at £35/month. In my opinion, £35/month is actually too cheap but I do understand the fine balancing act to get people to order. The economics of such projects would be even better if people were actually willing to pay a fair price for good connectivity.

    1. Avatar Fastman says:

      the biggest issue is the way the market is driven is that actually the expectation is that broadband is too Expensive and should be cheaper !!! — even if you could get 150 connection on a 197 build that would only gain you 63k in Revenue per annum so a seriously long payback (even to covere your 400k Budget) when you take into Bandwidth Costs and other costs that will need to be considered the payback will be even longer

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      Fastman, The biggest challenge is the 2.5 years it is taking for the BT models and processes to change. There are now too many good examples available proving for most part a much lower unit cost – £3,000 per premise estimates become £1,000 post survey. Overaying fibre is cheap and demand is high. The rate of progress within BT on this matter is a discussion on how opportunity costs and limited resources are managed. BT CBP is playing a good part in proving this. It would be interesting to see what CBP’s ambition is and how the 2.5 year time lag is to be addressed.
      The lack of ambition/drive/accountability/transparency means the opportunity to plan FoX exchanges in rural areas using some of the public monies accumulating in LA accounts and BT’s capital deferral pots is being lost.

    3. Avatar TheFacts says:

      @NGA – FoX means getting rid of LLU, how will that work?

  3. Avatar Dave Meadmore says:

    The issue here appears to be about planning and having a clear ROI. In these times of “competition” and consumers having to pay the overheads of switching ISP (now an annual ritual) and vast marketing budgets to convince us the same DSL service from a different supplier is going to make any difference, we can learn a lot from these local community projects.

    They simply canvass support from the local community to share the cost of essential infrastructure.

    I would be happy to sign a contract with BT for 10, 15 or 20 years. Even if I moved before the contract was up it would add value to my house. Fully fibre, no bulky green cabinets or their excessive power consumption. Shame we didn’t do it in the 80s when we had the chance.

    But no, each of the providers, including newcomers, have had to carefully plot where they can invest with the highest return, avoid their competition and hope OFCOM doesn’t interfere just when they are getting started. Under current plans we will end up with a privileged few with multiple ultrafast options whilst the majority remain on superfast and those on the fringes remain in a speed lottery. Those that have a multiple choice of fibre will drive down prices by competition so the irony is that those of us on copper will end up paying for the under-utilised fibre.

    Is OFCOM supposed to be there for the consumer?

    What would I do?
    Divide up the country into Telephone Areas (64 ring a bell)
    Get industry to tender for each Area to provide universal access to ultrafast
    Give each company a share of both high and low revenue Areas.
    Give them exclusivity and a 10 year ROI on the Infrastructure (so we don’t get multiple Fibre provision down the same streets)
    Apply an obligation to provide wholesale rent of Ultrafast access to other ISPs (they provide back haul and customer service etc)
    Use benchmarking of Areas to determine fair pricing and completion targets.

    What Ofcom can also do is allow multi-occupancy buildings to have one broadband feed and share it (through the ground rent or equivalent). I noted in a recent Openreach guide to builders that each flat will have its own OTN and Power backup. Surely people should be able to pool funds to get Fibre.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      Bit late for your scheme.

    2. Avatar Fastman says:

      Surely people should be able to pool funds to get Fibre. — Correct its called community fibre partnership and openreach has been doing it with communities since 2012

    3. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman

      I thought Openreach’s scheme only offered hybrid fibre/copper not proper fibre as in this article.

    4. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gerada I despair

      a significant amount of recent case studies around community fibre partnership published have been about FTTP

    5. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman. I agree, having been a victim of BTs manouvering to get communities to sign up to this scheme I have tended to avoid any articles related to it.

    6. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gerada “victim of BT manoeuvring”” — really !!!!! so how did you get done funded by Taxpayer/BDUK ?

    7. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman

      This is how:

      1. BT OMR response says it will cover us with commercial rollout despite being 2 miles from nthe earest cabinet so we are excluded from BDUK programme despite being a notspot.
      2. Once the contract is awarded we are told we will not actually be covered in the next phase of their commercial rollout but at a public meeting BT’s regional director pledges we will be covered by Spring 2014.
      3. BT then say that this pledge actually only holds if we contribute £50,000 towards the cost.
      4. The “offer” is unanimously rejected as no one wants to go into “partnership” with an organisaton that in the words of an ex-Councillor “has lied to us for the last 10 years”
      5. Current councillors and MPs then lobby ministers who are astonished that there are still villages with no ADSL having beeen told by BT, Ofcom, etc that ADSL is “universally available”.
      6. Government then funds Superfast Extension programme. This time BT consult a map before responding to the OMR and we are placed in the programme.
      7. December 2016, almost 3 years after the initial promised installation date, broadband arrives.

    8. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gerada 1st OMR was a done at 5 digit post codes so have no view on that now done at 7
      think that included VAT so Gap was less that that
      3 bespoke network build – requested by community/MP/politicians I understand You had a choice you chose not to Co fund and decided to wait for BDUK)
      6 OMR done at 7 digit postcode so actual specific area are revealed (what;s less that 24 m/bps) – the Map comment is disengenous and sarcasm not required
      7 covered under Suffolk SEP programme (a programme you have been outspoken on !!!! and its now brought you FTTP I understand)
      actually you had broadband (as defined by Ofcom) What you did not have was superfast broadband

    9. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman 1.& 6. The OMR was supposed to be based on robust plans. Consulting a map rather than assuming that all premises in a five digit postcode were within reach of a cabinet would seem to be a pre-requisite of a robust plan.

      7. Ofcom’s definition of broadband requires a service of 128kpbs. In 2012 this was only available to 3 premises in our village, and to vitually none in the other,from memory, 18 notspot villages in the five digit postcode. incidentally the village got FTTC not FTTP, after a farce of a migration exercise to an all in one cabinet

    10. Avatar Fastman says:

      Gerada as a said a complex network engineering project probably alighed with some live to live (where there are very specific rules about how you provide service without removing servvie to existing customers — interesting complained you not covered under commercial programmed funded by openreach Money (2.5bn) and then complained again about not funded fast enough by programme funded by Government (but 100% unwilling to fund via the community !!!! and then complain about how long you have to wait

    11. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman

      Perhaps if you read my comments with an impartial eye you would not be surprised by the villagers reaction. Incidentally FYI the Suffolk OMR was done at 7 digit postcode/premise level not 5 digit as done in some other places. Better Broadband to Suffolk for all its faults at least knew you cannot apply a blanket FTTC solution over areas covering many 10s of square miles . It’s just a pity that they were too trusting of BT when quizzed on how they were going to get to the outlying areas.

    12. Avatar Gadget says:

      @Gerarda most work now is done at UPRN level for exactly that reason, including the engines behind most availability checkers (they ask for either number or postcode with dropdown choice of premises in postcode).

  4. Avatar occasionally factual says:

    @gerarda
    From
    https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/03/openreach-community-fibre-scheme-deliver-340m-uk-boost.html

    “A new study estimates that the Community Fibre Partnerships scheme from Openreach (BT), which offers grants of up to £30K to help co-fund the cost of upgrading an area to receive their FTTC or FTTP based “fibre broadband” ISP network, could deliver an economic boost of £340m to the UK.”

  5. Avatar Nathan says:

    Why can’t they join up this netwwok to b4rn network? Surely it would reduce some of the backhaul costs ?

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