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BDUK Change Stalls One of B4RN’s Rural FTTP Builds in Cumbria UPDATE

Wednesday, Jun 14th, 2023 (1:54 pm) - Score 2,616
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Residents in the Eden Valley (Cumbria) villages of Warcop, Sandford, Coupland Beck, Bleatarn and Ormside have been left angry after the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency, which had been due to supply gigabit vouchers to help them get a new full fibre (FTTP) network installed, put their project into limbo.

Community ISP and fibre optic builder B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North), which works with residents and local landowners to deploy a 10Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network into remote parts of England, was understood to be only weeks away from starting work. More than 70 landowners had already agreed to provide access for the new fibre, and residents were also set to help build the network.

NOTE: B4RN typically charges £33 per month for their 1Gbps package (plus a £60 connection fee payable over 12-months).

According to the local CW Herald, the plan was recently changed after BDUK “suddenly declared that the parish was no longer a priority area” and thus put the entire project into an unexpected limbo, which is roughly reminiscent of the situation in Powys (here).

Instead, it sounds like BDUK has put the area into a new procurement under their Project Gigabit programme, which means they’ll have to wait and see if a commercial operator will bid to connect them. This means yet more delays and uncertainty for locals, which wastes all of the time and money that has already been put – over a period of about 9-months – into preparing the rollout.

A Spokesperson for B4RN said:

“We believe that BDUK have concluded that service to the community should instead be provided by a commercial supplier using the regional procurement process.

This is disappointing news. We sympathise with the local volunteers in Warcop and would like to thank them for their hard work. B4RN continues to deliver its full-fibre gigabit broadband network to the hardest to reach rural communities.”

The mention of the communities being in a “priority area” is interesting, since it suggests that they may have previously been designated as a ‘Voucher Priority Area‘ by BDUK, which is normally used to avoid voucher projects stalling when clashing with a wider Project Gigabit procurement. BDUK would otherwise pause voucher schemes for a time in order to avoid duplicating public investment, since both programmes focus on the same sort of rural areas.

Quite why the priority status was removed is thus unclear (assuming that’s actually what happened and not a misinterpretation by the CW Herald), since that would typically defeat the purpose of applying it in the first place. But we have contacted BDUK in the hope of gaining some much-needed clarification.

The original article also appears to suggest that the change impacted the entire project for Warcop, Sandford, Coupland Beck, Bleatarn and Ormside, while the official comments only seem to mention Warcop. Clearly, some key context may be missing.

UPDATE 4:25pm

We’ve had a comment from the government, although it doesn’t provide any clear clarification on the details of this specific case.

A government spokesperson said:

“Through the government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit programme, we are investing more than £100 million in Cumbria to connect people to lightning-fast broadband. The first premises are already connected and benefitting from access to gigabit-capable, reliable internet access.

Local people who are covered by the Project Gigabit contract will be able to choose from multiple service providers once installation is complete, with rollout anticipated at broadly the same pace as other schemes.”

Elsewhere, we have managed to get some clarifications from other sources. Firstly, the reason B4RN’s comment only mentions Warcop is because that’s also how they reference the overall project, which does indeed include the other communities (i.e. it’s not only an issue for the Warcop community).

We’ve also had it confirmed that the whole community was indeed in a voucher priority area (VPA), until BDUK took the decision to remove the community from the VPA and place it into the initial scope of the regional supplier, and so a B4RN project using the voucher scheme is no longer viable.

At present none of those in B4RN or the community itself know the justification for this decision, but we recall that BDUK’s assessments are typically based on pace, coverage and value. Interestingly, the VPA was in the deferred scope of the Regional Suppler (type B) procurement in Cumbria, which was won by Fibrus all the way back in November 2022 (here).

In other words, that area will now be moved into the initial scope of that procurement. This seems like a very poor way to be treating voucher projects.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

    ‘More than 70 landowners had already agreed to provide access for the new fibre’

    Curious: how many premises would these 70 landowners’ agreements have enabled to be passed?

    1. Avatar photo Peter Delaney says:

      You would need to see the project plans for that. However, I can say from personal experience that 70 wayleaves would have taken a *lot* of time and effort by the community to obtain. What has occurred must be beyond frustrating for those concerned. BDUK demonstrate little empathy with just a cold restatement of what a regional procurement is supposed to deliver.

    2. Avatar photo boggits says:

      Due to the area make-up, some of that will be the large tracts of farmland that allows them to get between the villages/hamlets that make up the project rather than getting into individual properties. Just Warcop itself is about 2-300 properties (it’s rural the exact boundaries get fuzzy)

  2. Avatar photo leem says:

    I work in the industry and this is commonplace. The DCMS/DSIT chop and change on (what feels like) a weekly basis. I dont know a single ISP who hasn’t had the rug pulled from under them by the DCMS/DSIT at *least* once.

    B4RN are poster boys for alt-nets so I imagine there voices will be heard a bit more than most (not a criticism of B4RN by the way).

    1. Avatar photo Andy says:

      I wonder when investors are going to snap and sue the government for all the money these incomprehensible – and seemingly unjustifiable – decisions waste.
      People wonder why businesses have to charge so much for public sector work – it’s not always for profitability’s sake. Think of all the millions upon millions of pounds that gets put into schemes like this, and other public procurements that have badly written requirements or that are changed on an almost daily basis because the government departments involved don’t seem to be able to think about what they’re doing before they do it. The only way all that wasted money gets recovered is by charging more for services.
      Then imagine how much taxpayer money is wasted having all these departments not be able to work out what they or their colleagues are doing.
      God only knows how the public sector would get anything done if there weren’t organisations there to say “actually no, if you want this work done you are going to have to decide what you want now and stick to it”.

    2. Avatar photo Peter Delaney says:

      This doesn’t surprise me in the least and situations like this will likely become more frequent as the regional procurements progress.

      BDUK , understandably perhaps, are most concerned with the big headline numbers. However, it really is concerning that voucher eligibility can be suddenly withdrawn like this without explanation. There must be a better, more equitable solution, than simply dumping all that community effort.

      BDUK’s dismissive reply suggests they are not losing much sleep over it though.

      I really hope Warcop, Sandford, Coupland Beck, Bleatarn and Ormside get their project back.

    3. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      BDUK are caught in the middle – there’s not being a competent minster at DCMS since forever, and since 2010 there’s been thirteen secretaries of state for DCMS. None have any prior business or telecoms experience, they arrive knowing nothing, they’re faced with a huge pile of ordure caused by the previous ministerial turnover and the incompetence of their predecessor. Before they can build up any competence* they’re manoeuvring for their next post and then they’re gone in around a year (noting that for a third of the year parliament are in recess). So a new minister every 37 working weeks. Civil servants then have a new set of ministers to work with, have to again run through their day one briefings and start from scratch with a clueless noob who has grand ideas how they will change things, without taking stock of the starting position, and whilst having to manage the bizarre set of responsibilities of DCMS. DSIT are in much the same place – but newly created by a random government reshuffle, so no continuity, complete new ministerial priorities.

      With names like Dorries, Hancock, Dowden on the list, waiting for them to build competence will be as productive as waiting for Godot.

  3. Avatar photo Jim Hardman says:

    The same treatment has been suffered by Murton Parish which includes Hilton, Brackenber and Flake bridge. In the Appleby-in-Wetmorland area like Warcop. B4RN had hoped to have some properties receiving service by Christmas and the rest not too many weeks later.

  4. Avatar photo Luke says:

    Just read the update…

    The comment from the government spokesperson is just nothing, why did they even bother commenting?

  5. Avatar photo Luke says:

    It’s really not fair treating people like this, people should contact their MP’s.

    1. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      Tricky to make a case – they’ve had one form of taxpayer subsidy removed, another provided. The constantly shifting goalposts can’t be fun for those trying to provide the service, though. Not sure what MPs could do now this has been consumed by the latter project.

      Ridiculous to have both schemes running in the same areas at almost the same time with a cliff-edge between them but very DCMS.

      See if the various qualities B4RN offer are outweighed by the increased choice of retail operators the regional procurement offers.

    2. Avatar photo Winston Smith says:

      Well, Warcop has tanks. They might help.

    3. Avatar photo Peter Delaney says:

      @XGS is On. Completely agree about what an MP may be able to achieve in this situation.

      If this sort of conflict is to be resolved, then there needs to be a process in place to manage it. However, it’s difficult to see what BDUK’s motivation would be to put such a process in place. The BDUK behemoth tends to move only if an issue becomes really big,like the one that resulted in the VPA solution in 2021.

      @Winston Smith. BDUK are a race of beings from the planet Zarq. Their famous death ray makes short work of heavy armour, sadly. This allows them to deploy the indifference shield with impunity. As thousands have found to their cost, touching it, even for a moment, makes you lose the will to live.

      Help us Obi Wan you’re our only hope…

Comments are closed

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