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Devon and Somerset UK Seek Larger Gigabit Broadband Vouchers

Tuesday, Jun 29th, 2021 (3:11 pm) - Score 1,344
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The Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) programme has today issued its response to the UK Government’s consultation on upgrading broadband for “Very Hard to Reach Premiuses” (VHTRP), which calls for larger Gigabit Broadband Vouchers to support rural builds and warns against moving away from “future proof” fibre solutions.

Just to recap. The new £5bn Project Gigabit programme recognised that bringing faster broadband to those who live in so-called “Very Hard to Reach” areas would be “prohibitively expensive” for it to tackle. The current expectation is that, once all the existing programmes have completed, around 0.3% of premises (under 100,000 UK premises) would probably still fall into this group.

In response, the Government announced a new call for evidence to see if they could find any solutions for such areas, which might enable them to access significantly faster broadband speeds and in a more cost-effective way. Some example ideas were also proposed, such as a greater focus on Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) networks or Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites (Starlink, OneWeb etc.).

The aforementioned consultation came to an end on 25th June 2021 and CDS has now published their own submission (here) which, in-between promoting all the progress they’ve made so far and highlighting the obvious need for better broadband in such areas, also revealed a few interesting titbits of information. We’ve summarised some of these below.

NOTE: The current voucher scheme offers up to £3,500 for businesses or £1,500 for homes to help them install a gigabit-capable connection (assuming they aren’t already part of a future rollout plan), but these can also be topped up by funding from local authorities in order to boost their values (often doubling the value). But sometimes not even that is enough.

CDS Consultation Response – Highlights

➤ As the challenge moves further to address communities comprising a higher volume of very hard to reach premises, the exponential increase in Cost Per Premise Passed (CPPP) means that more substantial contributions would be required to unlock the potential of this collaborative approach.

To underscore the need for this approach, CDS has evidence to show that in the last 12 months at least 123 voucher based projects were unable to proceed as a result of the need to top-up voucher values by over £1,000 per premise. The actual range of additional funding required was from £1,000 to over £8,000, representing a total shortfall on these 123 schemes, after accounting for vouchers, of over £6 million

It should be stressed that the above schemes are only representative of the scale of the problem, only reflecting the reality of providers who were able to share the information. The true scale of the problem is undoubtedly larger. To address this, CDS is pursuing funding routes that would allow it to consider enabling these remote rural communities by contributing at a much higher rate than is currently possible.

➤ There are c.41,000 premises in the CDS region that will remain at “sub-superfast” (30Mbps) speeds after allowing for all contractual and other subsidised build in the region, as well as all commercial build accepted in the recent CDS Open Market Review (OMR) refresh at the beginning of 2021.

An analysis of the distances between these NGA white premises reveals that around 3,400 premises are more than 200 metres apart. … With indicative fibre build costs, averaged across the full range of build methodologies, currently at £15 / metre, the cost of reaching each of these premises would be around £5,750.

Using this approach to defining VHTRPs, around 10% of all remaining premises in the [CDS] region constitute VHTRPs with the average premise requiring in excess of £4,000 additional subsidy, “over and above the current value of the Gigabit Voucher.”

NOTE: Around £12 million has been invested in the CDS region through voucher schemes so far, providing full-fibre broadband to more than 8,000 premises to date.

➤ Capacity, nationally, regionally, and locally, remains a key barrier to delivery at pace, with provider and sub-contractor resources needing to increase staff numbers to keep pace with contract and community demand. Since there is a finite pool of professional telecoms technicians, planners and engineers within the UK, attracting and retaining staff is an ongoing industry-wide problem.

Training up new generations of people to fill these roles takes time and, whilst both providers and Government are addressing the issue, there remains a shortage. This results in a highly competitive market for skilled staff with many providers reporting constant approaches to their staff from recruitment agencies seeking to fill other competitors’vacancies in the region.

Finally, CDS appears to caution the Government against giving up on “future proof” full fibre (FTTP) style upgrades in favour of cheaper “stop gap” solutions in such areas. “The national Superfast programme’s aspirations for 30 Mbps download speeds, whilst prescient at the time are now clearly not going to deliver the required speeds in the near future. The current Project Gigabit proposals should provide a future proof proposition but for those currently without superfast service, the prospect of being left ever further behind is alarming and represents a serious risk of growing inequality,” said the report.

The ball, as they say, is now back in the Government’s court to answer. But seeing as the whole reason for running this consultation was precisely because they’d deemed full fibre to be too expensive for the final 0.3% of premises, then we probably shouldn’t expect their final answer to be pushing the same technology.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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6 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Why says:

    VHTRP (Very Hard to Reach Premises)
    BHISP (Buy Houses In Stupid Places) … And Then Demand Broadband?

    Sounds like Starlink being shared over a few homes would be a cheaper, better, almost immediate solution. All you need is a DIY guy and some point to point Ethernet links (And more importantly, not to fall out with the neighbour with the Starlink dish!)

    1. Avatar photo Terrace house guy says:

      Totally agree. I live in a row of terrace houses and we all have a very small hole in the connecting wall in ours lofts.
      Very easy to install Ethernet across the lot of them.
      Big up starlink.
      I’ve said this numerous times before. If the ISP’s don’t get their act together and install fibre broadband (minimum 50mbs) everywhere and I mean everywhere, Starlink and even mobile phone operators (100mb allowance per month, 5G speeds) will crush the fixed line companies.

  2. Avatar photo New_Londoner says:

    I’m not sure that it makes any sense to look to the failing CDS project for expertise, nor would I want them to have any involvement in or influence over the allocation of any further public funds.

    1. Avatar photo NGA for all says:

      It is terrible that CDS have only subsidised BT in ~2,000 of their communities so far.

  3. Avatar photo NGA for all says:

    When will the innovation of self buried cable emerge?

  4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    Sometimes I do wonder why CDS is having such problems when their neighbour to the south west has managed an absolutely stonking amount of Openreach FTTP (and that was before Openreach got onto the full fibre train).

    It’s not like Cornwall is some densely populated metropolis!

Comments are closed

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