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Herefordshire UK Set £500,000 Aside for Rural Broadband Grants UPDATE

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 (8:54 am) - Score 1,413

The Herefordshire County Council (HCC) has confirmed that they’ve set aside £500,000 to support a new broadband grant scheme under the joint Fastershire project with Gloucestershire County Council, which will provide funding to help isolated communities that are not yet part of the current roll-out programme.

At present some 90% of Herefordshire homes and businesses can already access “superfast broadband” at speeds of 30Mbps+ and the existing roll-out contracts under the Fastershire project should see this rise to 96% by around 2022 (mostly via increased adoption of “full fibreFTTP networks). The focus is thus on how those in the final c.4% of premises will be reached.

In keeping with that the new funding looks set to form part of the recently agreed £14m Broadband Strategy between both counties (see our summary). As part of that it was proposed to establish a new Fastershire Community Broadband Grant to help aggregated groups of related premises (the talk is of individual grants with a value of up to £5,000); obviously the funding won’t be enough for every property.

The new grants, based around a pre-procured set of suppliers and Dynamic Purchasing System (these are to be offered on a first come, first served basis), would aim to deploy Gigabit-capable or FTTP broadband ISP networks “where value for money allows” (i.e. determined largely by the market competition with grant beneficiaries required to accept the most economically advantageous offer).

If individual grant applications exceed £5,000 then the total number of non-participating “still to do” premises covered incidentally by the project will also be accounted for in the calculation. Assuming this brings the cost back down below £5,000 per grant then the request will still be approved. A third calculation may be made if this is not achieved but it gets progressively hardly to hit the mark.

Councillor Trish Marsh said:

“Despite being one of the most sparsely populated counties in England, Herefordshire is quickly becoming one of the best connected areas in the country. This is vital to the future of our communities and businesses. Infrastructure projects like this are always challenging but even more so in such a rural county as Herefordshire, which had so little existing superfast coverage.

We know that the rollout of these new broadband networks sometimes takes a bit longer than residents and businesses would like, but there has been a massive investment in the county. We’re proud of the leap in superfast coverage from under 1% to over 90% in 7 years. Now we are really starting to the see the benefits and encourage householders to check the new options now available to them.”

Admittedly Herefordshire might be behind other counties in that their overall coverage of superfast broadband has only recently passed the 90% mark, although this should be balanced against the fact that they have a relatively high county-level of “full fibre” coverage at over 20% (vs 10% nationally).

Under the current plan FTTP networks in the county will reach 56% of the properties in rural areas by 2022, which is impressive and mostly thanks to Fastershire’s work with key suppliers including Openreach (BT), Gigaclear and Airband.

UPDATE 2:14pm

The Fastershire team informs that the new grant scheme is to be officially unveiled at a supplier event on Thursday 6th February 2020, when we should get some more details.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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16 Responses
  1. AnotherTim says:

    “Under the current plan FTTP networks in the county will reach 56% of the properties in rural areas by 2022” – I see no way in which this can be achieved. The build rate achieved by Gigaclear (which accounts for most of the ongoing Phase 2 Stage 3 rural builds) is far too low.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      They aren’t the only ones doing FTTP in rural areas of the county. You also have some commercial builds, altnets, Airband’s contract and likely more from Openreach.

  2. AnotherTim says:

    Well, apart from a small amount of commercial FTTP by BT, Gigaclear are the only company I know of in Lots 2 & 3c building anything, and so far they have passed less than 10% of the planned properties. To be fair, Gigaclear are close to finishing the areas around Minsterworth and Westbury, but the original plan was for those to be finished by summer 2018. So with 90% of the work to do in 50% of the time they will have to work overtime…
    I’d like to be proven wrong.

  3. CarlT says:

    That sounds like a good idea. Alongside the £3.4k Openreach are obliged to spend delivering the USO 10/1 service that’s £8.4k to get to a premises. That level of funding, used wisely and proactively to trigger multiple grants and applications within a hamlet will reach most.

    Only the most remote premises that are pretty much on their own can’t be hit with that much funding per premises.

    Perhaps for those guys wireless / LEO is the way to go for now.

    1. A_Builder says:

      @CarlT quite agree reasonable sized groups of houses are on the FTTP roadmap now with that level of funding.

      Although I suspect the major rural FTTP builder, by premises passed, will be OR from now on.

    2. CarlT says:

      For all their faults OR are delivering FTTP at scale and continuing to ramp up.

      For all the cheering of very small alternative networks those come with more risk of not being built, being built late or operational issues.

      The important thing is people getting the access. Who it’s through isn’t really a concern of mine.

      I’ll have less choice of infrastructure after my house move than I do now with zero prospect of that changing any time soon.

    3. AnotherTim says:

      @CarlT, surely with dual gigabit connections and a 4G backup, the lack of alternative infrastructure options won’t be too hard to bear?

    4. CarlT says:

      I don’t recall writing a complaint merely a factual statement, Tim. Given the context of Openreach potentially being the primary supplier and my specific statement that the important thing is access rather than who provides the infrastructure I thought it was abundantly clear.

      Good to know you read my comments elsewhere though.

  4. Samantha Rathbone says:

    As someone living in rural Herefordshire, I just hope that people like us who are getting speeds of just 1MB (if we’re lucky!) will really be the ones who benefit.

    1. joe says:

      The rollouts are really starting to speed up now. Failing all else you’re now only a few months from being able to request USO.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      Unless you are in an area with good EE 4G (lots are) I suspect that the USO won’t help – if the cost was within the threshold then either superfast would already have been delivered or you’d at least be in a plan.

    3. joe says:

      EE coverage is a moving target. Its getting better and will cover all most remote cases in the latest ofcom coverage period.

  5. Meadmodj says:

    My understanding of the USO was “if they are not due to receive such a service from a publicly-funded scheme in the year following their request“. Therefore any such announcement could mean significant delay in improved broadband unless very detailed plans are published detailing exactly who is covered and when.

    1. Meadmodj says:

      If no detailed plans are provided then on receipt of USO Requests BT would have to assume that any premises within the geographical area are potentially covered by the LA funding within the 12 months and decline all USO requests even though some premises will be later than the 12 months meaning no progress until the agreed LA funded rollout is achieved. (Although some customers will become aware that from third party advice that if in a 4G area there are mobile options from all providers).
      If detailed plans are provided then BT can accept USO requests for those outside 12 months (rolling).
      BT has three options (or mix), increase capacity of existing 4G Mast (may include 5G and back haul in units of 10Gbps) , install new masts (invariably 5G/10Gbps) or increase BT OR FTTP footprint.
      In LA funded areas awarded to BT then it is more likely the FTTP footprint will be accelerated to cover USO population.
      In LA funded areas awarded to Altnets, BT may choose to use 4G as the USO solution.
      In LA funded areas where BT decides on increasing BT OR FTTP footprint then the LA and Government may have the embarrassment of overbuild where both networks receive public funding.
      Where BT provides the USO 10:1 service as the minimum the consumer will become aware that they can order higher broadband speed products and if they were then to become content with the performance, reliability and cost of those then this may undermine the original commercial plans of the Altnet despite the LA funding.

      The only way I see this being avoided is either the wording is changed to “forecast to be covered by public funding” or the Altnets ramp up their progress significantly and declare their detailed plans so USO is declined..

    2. AnotherTim says:

      @Meadmod, I think that is an excellent summary. I’ve been in plan with superfast broadband coming “soon” for 6 years now – a few years ago our locality failed in a CFP because we weren’t eligible for a grant as we were in “plan” with rollout “soon” (making the cost per household too great for most people).
      I would expect USO to be refused in the same way (although in my area 4G already meets USO, so it is moot).

    3. Fastman says:

      the issue will be if the build of the premises is greater than the USO amount then that will have to be funded by the requester – THO uso is only up to a certain amount)

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