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Northumberland and Cumbria Prep Broadband Voucher Boost UPDATE

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 (9:37 am) - Score 679

A recent update on the planned £350m Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal has confirmed that internet slowspots in Northumberland and Cumbria (England) will “shortly” be able to take advantage of a new £4m Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme, which will enable locals to access bigger vouchers to help install gigabit broadband.

The new 10 year growth deal, which was agreed over a year ago (here), is primarily focused upon improving various different types of infrastructure and business in cross-border areas between England and Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Borders, Carlisle City, Cumbria and Northumberland.

borderlands_broadband_and_mobile_q1_2020_coverage_uk

As part of that the new deal intends to invest £4m toward a Digital Borderlands Voucher Scheme (DBVS) that will be designed to top-up the UK Government’s own £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) programme, which currently offers up to £3,500 for small rural businesses and up to £1,500 for homes to get a “gigabit-capable” broadband connection installed.

The RGC scheme is only expected to run until March 2021 and so the additional funding via DBVS will have to match that delivery target. Sadly we don’t yet know how big the top-up vouchers will be but the latest newsletter included the following update: “We have submitted the business case to the UK Government and expect to launch the £4 million ‘top-up’ voucher scheme in Cumbria and Northumberland shortly.”

By boosting the vouchers the DBVS scheme will be helping to make it more viable for some increasingly remote communities to benefit from such connectivity. On the other hand the much weaker 10Mbps USO is already showing that some of the most rural communities will need more funding than even the combined DBVS and RGC in order to deliver on the Government’s 2025 target for gigabit broadband coverage to every home.

A general summary of the growth deal’s wider digital priorities can be found below.

Strategic Priority 1: Extending gigabit capable connectivity to all premises

The priority is deploy full fibre gigabit capable connectivity across the whole region. Going forward all broadband investment will be full fibre. Recognising the market failure in rural areas, we will work with UK and Scottish Governments to enable the following priorities to be progressed:

* Complete the superfast contracts with BT to deliver circa 93% coverage across the Borderlands by March 2021.

* Use RGC funding to connect hub sites in superfast not-spot locations in Cumbria and Northumberland and so stimulate further commercial deployment or voucher supported community schemes during 2020/21.

* RGC funding will also be used to deliver full fibre connections to 35 schools in Dumfries and Galloway.

* Use RGC top-up vouchers to support communities in not-spot locations in Cumbria and Northumberland to install full fibre infrastructure in the period up to March 2022.

* Delivery of the R100 programme across the South of Scotland by 2023.

* Secure UK Government investment (the ‘F20’ programme) in the non-commercial areas to achieve 100% gigabit capable connectivity by 2025.

* Ensure Local Plan policies are up-dated to require developers to provide full fibre to the premise in all new developments.

Strategic Priority 2: Boosting mobile infrastructure for 4G and 5G coverage

Mobile infrastructure is a critical component of the digital infrastructure strategy particularly in more remote rural areas. Mobile infrastructure can provide the necessary connections for 4G in areas with few premises to support the land management sector, visitor economy and logistics. Mobile 4G infrastructure is also required to enable future deployment of 5G. The Borderlands region is keen to be an area for testing and trialling of 5G technology in a rural context. We will work with UK and Scottish Governments to enable the following priorities to be progressed:

* Monitor the evolving Shared Rural Network (SRN) 4G programme to assess coverage in the Borderlands.

* Secure funding and mobilise the Digital Borderlands 4G infill programme to complement the SRN and ensure that no place is left behind.

* Work with partners on 5G research and development projects.

Strategic Priority 3: Creating Digital Hubs

Digital Hubs can fulfil a range of functions, with the most common features including internet access, providing meeting and networking space, and giving opportunities to test new technologies. They have potential to improve digital skills for individuals and businesses as well as foster business and community development. The digital infrastructure strategy, working with local partners, will underpin the following priorities:

* Develop the new University of Cumbria campus in Carlisle as a Digital Hub4 through provision of the new Digital Skills Academy with business networking space and community learning.

* Establish digital hubs in each town within the Borderlands Place programme to enhance the provision delivered through libraries and digital learning hubs across the region.

* Work with South of Scotland Enterprise Agency and Skills Development Scotland and with Cumbria LEP and the North East LEP to increase the delivery of digital skills provision for businesses and communities.

UPDATE 3:23pm

The two councils have revealed that their £4 million investment will be made available will be used to match the level of funding available under the RGC, so that eligible businesses can now apply for up to a maximum of £7,000 and eligible residential properties up to £3,000.

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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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5 Responses
  1. Avatar NGA for all

    It would be have better I think to see a regional procurement for Cumbria & Northumberland to finish these projects off. Messing around with vouchers is likely to create a permanent digital divide in terms of fibre coverage into the last 2-3%.

    Publishing ‘true-ups’, itemising BT’s contributions to allowable costs on these projects would have enabled a better final outcome.

    • Avatar chris conder

      If BT are involved there will always be a digital divide. They only do the easy bits where most customers are. The way to stop this is just to fund altnets who go the extra mile. The first decade of NGA has proved this indisputably. The ones who had ok broadband to start with got superfast. the ones on the edges got superslow, and the remote ones got nothing. If funding had gone to help the remote ones those networks could have harvested the slow ones too, and BT would have gone straight to fibre for the easy ones, instead of sweating the copper for an extra decade. You can’t blame them, they have a massive pension deficit and thousands of employees and shareholders. What you can blame is pouring public money into a solution that doesn’t solve the country’s problem, which is connectivity for all. Not just the low lying fruit to keep a monopoly running on obsolte phone lines. But thanks to Virgin and altnets the tide is changing and they have to modernise now. Let us hope there are enough altnets to get the vouchers and get the fibre in.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Chris, I have tried to focus on keeping the funding in play. Who spends it is a matter for policies are outlined.

      Openreach like Ba4N have done a good job. OR have done over 500k FTTP rural and there is room to do

  2. Avatar Peter

    You can’t compare BTOR FTTP with B4RN. One is symmetric gigabit and the other is asymmetric and not even close to gigabit. Guess which is which (Hint: BTOR is not gigabit or even close to. 30mbit upstream isn’t anywhere near futureproof.)

    Virgin are also a bunch of jokers, coaxial copper is not fibre and their headline speeds are gross exaggerations at best. You might get 150+ mbit when nobody else in the street is online but when they are good luck getting anything close to that.

    Either we go B4RN equivalent everywhere, or we continue the same situation we have now, where the numbers are 10x bigger but theres still a huge divide between fast and slow dictated by where you live.

  3. Avatar chris conder

    One thing you need to check out Mark is that this topup is only available for half of the homes and businesses, as once the allocated funding for a PRP is used both funding streams stop. So it is first come first served for an area. Also means the easy areas will be targeted… People need to get registered very quickly!

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