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Cameron and Clarkson miss out as Chipping Norton fibre broadband funding axed

A rural broadband project that would have delivered FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) to 5,000 Cotswolds residents is to be axed. 

Due to an overlap with the local authorities’ BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) plans, which will connect 90 per cent of premises across Oxfordshire and Worcestershire, the Cotswolds Broadband scheme will no longer benefit from funding from the RCBF (Rural Community Broadband Fund). 

Cotswolds Broadband was due to pick up £1.8 million which would have covered part of the project’s costs, but the council are now backing out of the plan. 

Cameron and Clarkson to miss out as Cotswold fibre broadband scheme axed
Fibre to the Cows: No full fat FTTP for the Cotswolds

A statement released by INCA (Independent Networks Co-operative Association) says that the funding would have covered 34 per cent of Cotswolds Broadband’s project costs. By contrast, the council is spending £10 million on the Better Broadband for Oxfordshire project, although BT is contributing £11 million to that and it’s aiming to cover 64,000 premises by 2015. 

Project leader Hugo Pickering is frustrated and disappointed with the decision, telling local paper The Oxford Times that “It’s far easier for the county to just say ‘let’s give it all to BT rather than other people’.”

Pickering added that the BDUK project, which will see BT connecting most premises to FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) wouldn’t provide inferior speeds to the FTTP connections his project would have rolled out. INCA’s statement agrees, saying that FTTC is less future proofed. 

While it’s true that BT’s FTTC connections in their current state can only provide customers with top speeds of 80Mbps (and only then if they’re really close to a street cabinet), tests with technologies like vectoring and G.fast should increase the top speeds. 

Top speeds possible on FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) lines are dictated by distance – the customer’s proximity to the cabinetEven then, the availability of faster speeds are still dictated by proximity. G.fast can provide speeds of up to 1Gbps, but this top speed begins to drop off after distances of 100 metres. 

Premises connected to the FTTC network will eventually be able to make use of the FTTP On Demand programme, where customers can upgrade the copper last mile of their connection. BT has demonstrated that it’s product can go as fast as 10Gbps

That said, FTTP On Demand in its current state is expensive and only available to business customers. It’s expected that prices will wall and non-business customers will be able to order it in as well, but there’s no telling when this will happen. 

BT spokesman Ian Read added that the open nature of BT’s network means that it will deliver choice to rural customers whereas there’s no guarantee that a local project would open up. 

Read said: “A key consideration is that any network which benefits should be open to all ISPs to use. That way, local monopolies are avoided and customers have choice. 

“BT has spent huge sums developing systems that support such competition and it may be the case that small local operators can’t meet those conditions and are therefore ineligible to receive public funds.”

Cotswolds Broadband’s plan has always been to create an open access FTTP network that would cover 90 per cent of the Chipping Norton area, so it’s not true to state that this project would have created a local monopoly, although similar projects that aren’t open conceivably could. 

Cotswolds Broadband planned to deliver FTTP to 90 per cent of Chipping Norton Council spokesman Martin Crabtree reveals that the government couldn’t guarantee that funding would be provided for Cotswolds Broadband under the BDUK scheme. 

Rules on state aid funding mean that BDUK money can’t be spent on rolling out superfast broadband to areas where ISPs or local projects are planning to dig. 

Crabtree says that plans were made with Cotswolds Broadband to make sure the Chipping Norton area wasn’t included, or ‘de-scoped’ from the Better Broadband for Oxfordshire plan, something we reported back in August.

Despite this, the government couldn’t promise the money for Cotswolds. Crabtree said: “The county council has been very keen to support small providers such as Cotswolds Broadband in developing their own broadband schemes, but we are reliant on Central Government guaranteeing that they would provide the necessary funding in full. 

“We actively pursued the possibility of de-scoping – removing the Cotswolds Broadband target area – from our own project. 

“Broadband Delivery UK have been unable to guarantee that they would be funding the Cotswolds bid and the additional costs the council would face if we did de-scope. This would put at risk the already planned delivery of broadband to 4,800 homes in Chipping Norton and delay the delivery of the county-wide broadband scheme.” 

At the time of posting DCMS (Department of Culture Media and Sport), which is responsible for BDUK, couldn’t be reached for comment. 

Image: James Burke/Flickr

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