North Skye Broadband, a “not for profit” community organisation, has scrapped its plans for rural ultrafast broadband because of Government funding constraints.
NSB said yesterday (Friday February 2) that “it is with huge regret” it had to abandon the plan.
NSB is a community organisation set up in 2015 to provide ultrafast broadband services to homes and businesses in communities across North Skye where no commercial provider has any plans to do so.
It said it “has been forced to abandon its “fibre to the premises” (“FTTP”) pilot/demonstrator project – intended to provide ultrafast fibre-based broadband connections to around fifty premises in the Glendale area of Skye – as a direct consequence of the Scottish Government’s “R100” initiative.”
Last summer, after nearly two years of abortive efforts to secure funding for an ultrafast FTTP network covering north Skye, NSB withdrew its State Aid Application to Community Broadband Scotland because it became clear that community broadband schemes are ineligible for State Aid funding.
Neither the Scottish Government’s broadband policy nor the National Broadband Scheme 2016 makes any provision to support an affordable, community-owned, future-proof and resilient ultrafast broadband network such as already exists elsewhere in the UK.
At the suggestion of Community Broadband Scotland, NSB instead decided to proceed with a pilot/demonstrator project to serve around 50 premises in the Glendale area, funded by Community Broadband Scotland with “de minimis” funding of €200,000, which does not require state aid notifcation as it is not regarded as having competitive impact.
NSB said there “have been significant challenges, including the lack of adequate back-haul from the Dunvegan BT exchange, and the costs of laying fibre from Dunvegan to the first premises served: both of these were successfully addressed. “
An update on progress was sent to Community Broadband Scotland and Highlands and Islands Enterprise on 16 January 2018, but on 21 January, a response from CBS/HIE stated that: “Scottish Government is committed to broadband infrastructure delivery through its R100 programme. As a result of state aid requirements, it is not possible to publicly fund any project outwith this programme. The procurement has started and companies are preparing tenders based on the intervention area.
“Until this procurement process is concluded and the potential extent of deployment from this initial procurement is confirmed, it is not possible to publicly fund any broadband infrastructure project.”
Whilst NSB is well aware of the Scottish Government’s R100 programme, it said there had been no indication by CBS until this time that “de minimis” funding is no longer available.
Funding for planning and development of project work to deliver ultrafast FTTP broadband for North Skye was granted by HIE in late 2015 for 12 months but no further funding was made available, despite a request for this in early 2017.
Consequently NSB now has insufficient funds to continue in any meaningful way.
The R100 programme – being based on the National Broadband Scheme 2016 – is designed solely to provide public funds to subsidise private sector investment in telecommunications networks.
It does not provide funding for community-operated networks, where the business case for rural broadband is fragile, and the profit element required by private sector operators makes that business case unviable.
R100 will never deliver the future-proof broadband solutions needed in rural communities in the way that (for example) New Zealand has achieved over the last seven years through investment by its government.
NSB says: “It is particularly ironic that NSB’s project to demonstrate ultrafast FTTP in a rural context (when R100 will only offer superfast broadband via very expensive satellite connections to the most remote Highland communities) should be halted in the same week that Sky TV announced its strategic move away from using satellite dishes to an optical fibre-based Internet service instead.
“Together, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route and the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal, which claims to position Inverness and the Highlands as a region of digital opportunity, are costing taxpayers almost £1 billion.
“Although the provision of real digital opportunity in North Skye would cost less than 0.05% of that sum, current UK and Scottish Government broadband policy provides no opportunity for NSB to access any funding whatsoever.”
Yet in urban areas change is rapid and massive with, for example, Virgin stating their entry-level domestic superfast broadband product is now 100Mbps.
“Community broadband initiatives are consistently isolated and unsupported, and rural communities are further disempowered and disadvantaged both strategically and economically,” NSB says.
The NSB website http://www.northskyebroadband.com/about/ explains what they originally hoped to achieve and why.