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Letter to the DCMS Secretary of State from Yvette Riley

Yvette Riley, who is co-ordinating the Martyr Worthy scheme has written to the DCMS Secretary of State to express the anger felt about the Government's sudden decision to close the current rural voucher scheme on February 19th. A copy of the letter is here.

An Unwelcome Email from Openreach

I have received the following EMail from BT Openreach outlining changes to the Broadband Voucher scheme. See the following news items for the reaction to it.

-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: Important Government Voucher Update
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2021 13:00:30 -0000
From: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Hello there,

 As many of our communities want to utilise Government vouchers to fund their share of their Community Fibre Partnership scheme, we’re writing to make sure you are aware of important changes to the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme as communicated recently by the Government.

 The current scheme will close for new voucher requests on 31st March 2021. This date has been widely communicated by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) via BDUK for the past two years.

 BDUK have recently briefed suppliers that the current scheme will close to new projects on the 19th February. This is to enable them to prepare for the launch of a new Voucher scheme which they expect to go live in April 2021.

BDUK have also confirmed with approved suppliers of the voucher scheme that:

 Whilst Projects (PRPs) funded by the Rural Gigabit Connectivity vouchers will close to new submissions on the 19th February, suppliers can continue to request vouchers against agreed projects until the 31st March, and issued vouchers retain their 12 month validity from the date of issue.

  • They expect the UK Gigabit Programme voucher to go live in April 2021 to provide continuity to gigabit broadband delivery via voucher projects where possible, and that they will share more details with suppliers, residents and SMEs as soon as they can.
  • BDUK is working with all suppliers on the scheme to transition eligible projects where possible, so that eligible residents don’t miss out on the opportunity for government funding to provide access to gigabit capable connections.
  • BDUK have confirmed that they are designing the new scheme to ensure that the vouchers continue to support those premises in the hardest to reach, ‘OFCOM Area 3 postcode sector’ areas. We have been advised by BDUK that currently premises within Area 2 postcode sectors, as defined by OFCOM, will not be eligible in the new scheme.

Please see the attached, provided by BDUK provides guidance at this stage on Area 2 and Area 3 postcodes, but it should be noted that this is still subject to the WFTMR Consultation and therefore subject to change once the consultation is finalised by OFCOM

We wanted to let you know as soon as we heard about these developments, so that you can begin to consider options on how you can fund your share of your partnership with us.

Best regards,

 Community Fibre Partnerships 

Sun Hill Crescent

Considerable progress has been made this week in terms of finalising the scheme. As I indicated last weekend, the main outstanding issue was whether or not to include the Sun Hill Crescent area in the scheme. This had originally been suggested by Openreach given that there were clear synergies with the existing scheme. My main concern was to make sure that the demand was there especially given that there was a perception that internet speeds were higher there than in the existing scheme area and hence less motivation to join the scheme.

Since then, I have had many expressions of interest, especially from the southern end of Sun Hill Crescent. A short survey of the download speeds that residents there are actually getting has indicated that the typical speed is towards the lower end of the range given by the BT database and this makes a big difference. The upgrade issues for a resident in the Sun Hill Crescent area will be the same as for the rest of the scheme area, and the view is thus that we should include the Sun Hill Crescent area in the scheme.

There are also clear advantages in extending the scheme. The scheme will increase in size from 230 properties to an estimated 350 properties. At the same time, I would expect to see a cost increase similar to when the original 113 property scheme was extended to 230 properties. This means that we should be able to get the cost per property down from £1291 to around £1,000 per property.  This is a very viable scheme. It also starts to become high profile - perhaps too big to fail from the point of view of HCC and Openreach.

In order to cover the cost of the scheme, we will need a minimum of 116 properties (33%) to pledge their vouchers. However, Openreach demand an additional 30% to offset the risk of vouchers being cancelled (e.g. due to residents moving house, or just not being bothered to complete the upgrade). The target is thus 150 properties (43%).

In contrast, the original leafleting of Orchard Close got 38 (out of 70) expressions of interest (54%).. We should be able to do better than this with a proper campaign. I would also expect to see a similar interest level in Appledown Close and Sun Hill Crescent. The Linnets Road (south) pledge rate should be even greater, given how bad the internet is in those areas.

The target thus looks to be very achievable.

Extension to Sun Hill Crescent

The main outstanding issue is  whether or not we expand the scheme from the current 230 houses to include the Sun Hill Crescent area. From the wider Alresford perspective, the councillors would like us to do this:

  • Adding ~ 150 houses which share some of the ducts with us should reduce the average cost per house and hence the pledge rate goes down.
  • However, the absolute number of vouchers needed increases, and
  • There is an issue over how interested those in Sun Hill Crescent will be.

The problem here is buried in the detail of the DCMS grant T&Cs. When you pledge your voucher you are actually agreeing to do two things. One is to upgrade to at least 30 Mbits/s. The other is to double your current connection speed. This second point was absent from the HCC website guidance was only spotted this week.

The 230 properties in the current scheme all receive 30Mbit/s or below at present. Here, a qualifying upgrade is from (e.g.) BT Fibre 1 (£27.99/month) to BT Fibre 2 (£29.99/month). Hopefully most would agree that this is £2 a month well spent given the improvement in the service, and will not provide to be an issue here. However, Sun Hill Crescent is nearer the BT Cabinet. Their speeds range from just over 30 Mbits/s at the southern end to 50 Mbits/s at the northern end. For many a qualifying upgrade is to (e.g.) BT Fibre 100 (£39.99/month). The question is how many would be prepared to stump up £10/£12 a month more?

This is the question that we are now trying to answer. There is a risk that we could fail to meet the target pledges if not enough in Sun Hill Crescent are convinced.

Please let me know any opinions that you may have on this subject. If you know anyone in the Sun Hill Crescent area, including all the roads off it, then please forward a link to this website to them to we can get as much feedback as possible. The website also provides a contact form which they can use to let us know their opinion.

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