Hope for Argyll broad­band pi­lot

The Oban Times - - NEWS - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

GIGAPLUS Argyll’s board is hope­ful it can save a £1 mil­lion scheme to bring su­per­fast broad­band to 1,600 re­mote homes on Mull, Iona, Lis­more, Colon­say, Lu­ing, Is­lay, Jura and in Craig­nish after a crunch meet­ing last week.

The ground­break­ing com­mu­nity-run pro­ject was granted £988,000 of gov­ern­ment fund­ing to­wards the net­work’s staged roll-out by Com­mu­nity Broad­band Scot­land (CBS), a Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive led by High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise (HIE).

Direc­tors feared their five-year pro­ject had collapsed into an ‘im­pos­si­ble mess’ after their ap­pointed con­trac­tor, AB In­ter­net, went bust. They then faced an ‘ab­surd’ sce­nario where GigaPlus Argyll was bur­dened with eight masts it could not use, which would prob­a­bly have to be re­moved at fur­ther pub­lic cost, after only two houses were con­nected.

Mo­ray Finch, chair­man of GigaPlus Argyll, de­scribed the board’s meet­ing with CBS and HIE in Craignure last Wednesday as ‘the most op­ti­mistic since the demise of AB In­ter­net five months ago’.

Mr Finch said: ‘It is too early to make a judge­ment on the fi­nal out­come, but we are hope­ful that with sup­port from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment, the ideas be­ing de­vel­oped by CBS might help us to get the pro­ject back on track.’

GigaPlus Argyll’s direc­tors will meet Fer­gus Ew­ing, cab­i­net sec­re­tary for the ru­ral econ­omy and con­nec­tiv­ity, at the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment on Oc­to­ber 24.

Com­ment­ing after last Wednesday’s meet­ing on Mull, an HIE spokesper­son ex­plained: ‘Right from the start GigaPlus Argyll was an am­bi­tious pi­lot pro­ject.

‘Its aim was to de­liver a su­per­fast broad­band wire­less net­work across mul­ti­ple is­land com­mu­ni­ties, to reach some of Scot­land’s hard­est-to-reach broad­band ar­eas. It was never going to be easy and it took a lot of work by the com­mu­nity, with CBS sup­port, to de­velop a de­liv­ery model which had the po­ten­tial to be vi­able.

‘The tech­ni­cal and le­gal chal­lenges of build­ing wire­less net­works, both in Scot­land and in Wales, saw the col­lapse of es­tab­lished wire­less provider AB In­ter­net.

‘Hav­ing won the con­tract, it ul­ti­mately did not pos­sess suf­fi­cient cash flow to de­liver what were chal­leng­ing geo­graphic fixed wire­less so­lu­tions, sub­ject to com­plex state aid reg­u­la­tions. The de­liv­ery chal­lenges caused sig­nif­i­cant de­lays to the roll-out of in­fra­struc­ture.

‘AB In­ter­net was un­able to se­cure suf­fi­cient ad­di­tional fund­ing to meet this chal­lenge and en­tered into ad­min­is­tra­tion in May 2017. This was a huge blow for the pro­ject and has demon­strated the risks and chal­lenges the com­mer­cial market faces.

‘There are very strict reg­u­la­tions around the use of pub­lic funds in broad­band projects, both fi­bre roll-out and com­mu­nity-led devel­op­ment, and these will have to be a con­sid­er­a­tion for the com­mu­nity going for­ward.

‘Some £633,000 of pub­lic money has been in­vested to date.

‘The com­mu­nity owns the masts pur­chased and there is a po­ten­tial op­tion for them to lease these. Sup­pli­ers may in­vest in and use the masts if there are enough cus­tomers to make this vi­able.

‘CBS has been work­ing with GPA since May to work through the com­plex­ity of these op­tions.

‘This work in­cludes a re­al­is­tic as­sess­ment of the ad­van­tages and risks as­so­ci­ated with each op­tion to en­able the com­mu­nity to make a de­ci­sion on the next course of ac­tion. CBS at­tends ev­ery board meet­ing and is in reg­u­lar di­a­logue to pro­vide the group with the most up-to-date and rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion.’

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