De­lays dash hopes of is­land com­mu­nity fi­bre broad­band

The Oban Times - - News -

HOPES of a full fi­bre com­mu­nity net­work on Skye look to be dashed af­ter North Skye Broad­band (NSB) backed out of a state aid ap­pli­ca­tion fol­low­ing a ‘frus­trat­ing’ 18 months.

The not-for-profit com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion has an­nounced it will no longer be pro­gress­ing with its ap­pli­ca­tion for fund­ing from Broad­band De­liv­ery UK (BDUK) and Com­mu­nity Broad­band Scot­land (CBS).

The de­ci­sion was taken fol­low­ing de­lays in the lengthy ap­pli­ca­tion process be­cause of com­plex pub­lic pro­cure­ment re­quire­ments.

NSB has al­ready un­der­taken two separate state aid pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions – a manda­tory re­quire­ment of the pro­cure­ment process – and the de­ci­sion not to pro­ceed comes as it was due to un­der­take a third con­sul­ta­tion, which has been de­layed for nearly six months.

Re­ported dif­fi­cul­ties with the open mar­ket re­view have also hin­dered the process, with NSB say­ing time was wasted wait­ing for more ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, as ap­par­ently ex­ist­ing data has been found in many cases to have a 30 to 40 per cent er­ror rate.

Ge­off Sem­ler, chair­man of NSB, said from the start the com­pany had planned to be a com­mu­nity- owned net­work, min­imis­ing costs and us­ing lo­cal re­sources where pos­si­ble.

Ge­off ex­plained its aim was to ‘nar­row the dig­i­tal di­vide caused by op­er­a­tors only of­fer­ing high-speed broad­band in denser ur­ban ar­eas and ig­nor­ing the needs of frag­ile ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, where many res­i­dents and busi­nesses only have the choice of in­fe­rior broad­band via ob­so­lete tech­nolo­gies or, of­ten, no in­ter­net con­nec­tion’.

Speak­ing af­ter NSB took the de­ci­sion, he said: ‘It has been clear to NSB through­out that a wire­less-based trunk net­work is wholly in­ap­pro­pri­ate for our needs. Not only does the harsh en­vi­ron­ment on Skye present chal­lenges to the erec­tion of masts and aeri­als, but HIE’s own fig­ures demon­strate that even if such a scheme can be prof­itable, the business case sim­ply does not gen­er­ate suf­fi­cient sur­plus rev­enue to fi­nance the tech­nol­ogy re­fresh that will in­evitably be needed to meet the ever-in­creas­ing de­mand for band­width.

‘The ex­ist­ing state aid schemes are not fit for pur­pose be­cause they are de­signed to sup­port the pro­vi­sion of as many wire­less net­works as pos­si­ble, as cheaply as pos­si­ble and as quickly as pos­si­ble.’

The chair­man said the state aid rules re­quire such net­works to be fu­ture proof, but in his opin­ion they are ‘any­thing but’.

‘Iron­i­cally, un­til the chan­cel­lor’s 2016 au­tumn state­ment and the es­tab­lish­ment of the dig­i­tal in­fras­truc­ture fund, BDUK would not ap­prove any state aid ap­pli­ca­tion that spec­i­fied op­ti­cal fi­bre as the net­work medium.

‘Now they are cry­ing out for com­mer­cial providers to build fi­bre net­works but con­tinue to refuse to fund com­mu­nity- owned net­works.’

He added: ‘The state aid process ac­tu­ally pre­cludes NSB from adding any value to the im­ple­men­ta­tion or oper­a­tion of the net­work. In­stead it uses NSB as a fund­ing con­duit to pro­vide a com­mer­cial op­er­a­tor and its bene­fac­tors with a state sub­sidy.’

It was de­cided none of th­ese schemes meet NSB’s re­quire­ments.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.