Latest Update from Cumbria County Council

08:32 in News by Louis Mosley

Here’s the latest from the County website:

The County Council has been asked to take on the role as responsible body for the Accessible Cumbria (superfast broadband) project in Cumbria, by Broadband Development UK (BDUK).

The project aims to develop opportunities’ for businesses and communities to develop and thrive in Cumbria. For that reason we are working with communities and businesses to develop the model that best delivers improvement to those communities.

We recognise the golden opportunity this represents for the communities of Cumbria and are keen to support it. There is a financial commitment from the County Council and for that reason the councillors will consider the matter formally at the end of March.

Our key thinking has been informed by discussions with residents, businesses and may yet change in the future dependent upon feedback that the County Council receives prior to the decision in the meeting at the end of March.

The discussions with BDUK to date have focussed on two things.

How do we get the best value out of the money we have been promised?
How do we ensure that any rationing is fair?

How do we get the best value out of the money we have been promised?

A strategic fibre to the property (FTTP) solution is probably the least effective way of maximising the value from the money available to us. It would be expensive and therefore only benefit a small part of the population. There are clearly various degrees of enthusiasm and expertise in our communities which would also be shunned by the FTTP approach.

One of the recurring themes from several of the community workshops councillors have attended is “concentrate on the backhaul”. If we can provide a community point of presence then a wide range of approaches can be adopted by the community to deliver their own broadband.

To minimise the cost of that backhaul we intend to take advantage of our own need to procure a network provider and the assets that we own in CLEO (Cumbria and Lancashire Education Online) to rationalise all this down to one service where points of presence for community use can be provided through schools, libraries and local authority buildings as a first call.

This can be provided through our own procurement and does not need large amounts of BDUK money. There are, however, plenty of communities that do not have a school, library or local authority building and the BDUK funding would be used to extend beyond that current network out to community groups. We are confident that this can be done and still protect the service required by schools.

Evidence suggests that there is a significant amount of unused capacity in the school network which would be utilised without impacting on school usage. In addition, use in school and use at home is largely synchronous and so deployment of appropriate technologies can ensure that bandwidth is switched when demand requires it. This could further enhance the capacity outside of school times without being detrimental to schools or domestic and business users. This switching is a cost above what the County Council needs to invest for our own purposes and so would be the start of the BDUK work.

In this way we will maximise the value from the existing public sector network and maximise the impact of the BDUK funding. As well as utilising the CLEO network we recognise that by leasing this to a supplier it has commercial value in itself. Therefore in the bidding process, we anticipate that potential suppliers will come up with funding of their own thereby extending the amount of work that we can do.

This explains how we maximise the number of points of presence in the communities. Beyond that point of presence we will look to establish a ’Quality Guild’ of suppliers that offer services ranging from supply of parts through to a full service. The criteria for gaining acceptance onto this Quality Guild will be established with the help of the coordinators who represent community broadband across Cumbria.

This Quality Guild will then allow each community to decide their own level of expertise/enthusiasm and match that against a suitable supplier. We believe this fulfils the two tenets of Big Society: the right to choose and the obligation to pay. There is no free broadband. The funds will be used to ensure that the rate the community pays is competitive.

How do we ensure any rationing is fair?

Even with the gap funding model outlined above which we believe can be delivered, the current level of funding will mean choices need to be made as part of the pilot phase. We are currently preparing papers for consideration at council as to how the allocation would be made. The following criteria are being considered:

Index of multiple deprivation ,including accessibility domain
Opportunity for business development and employment growth
A “not spot “ or area of poor broadband coverage with market failure
Different levels of community engagement i.e. fully engaged and active; variable interest but where opportunity is alive; little or unexplored capacity
Different topographies, geography, settlement types i.e. Deep rural - market town and
hinterland - urban fringe.
Opportunity to test different and innovative technologies.
We have also started to identify broadband coordinators to represent community groups who will have a say in the governance of this project. This is a complex situation and the results of the procurement and degree of gap funding will also have an impact on how far we can go.

I hope this shows that we have done a lot of the planning and thinking necessary to get this off the ground to the maximum advantage for all of Cumbria. BDUK acknowledge that our plan is innovative and deliverable.

We are also lobbying through our MPs for BDUK to make a statement about any intentions for Cumbria beyond the pilot phase but as yet there has been no firm commitment.

Work on procuring the points of presence is in accordance with BDUK requirements of a European procurement. This does take a little time but does ensure maximum value for the investment. None of the BDUK money goes into managing the process. BDUK expect that we will pick up that bill – which they have done by combining it with its own procurement of ICT services. For that reason we expect the final shape to be known at the end of the year with deployment during spring summer 2012.

Universal Service

Our vision for the future is to see the whole of Cumbria connected to high speed broadband internet in line with the government’s commitment to deliver a Universal Service in broadband, at a speed of 2 Megabits per second, by no later than 2012.

We see this as the absolute minimum service and reflects the feedback and concern we have received from some communities. There are parts of the County that have no broadband at all. These communities are concerned that if we focus on the easy to upgrade areas then they will get left even further behind. The County Council is clear that the 2mb universal service will be exceeded and the challenge for any supplier is how much they can deliver for the money and still ensure a minimum of 2mb.

We value your views and they have had an effect on moulding our thinking to date and they will in the future.

Please contact your local Parish Council or Broadband Hub Co-ordinator with any thoughts or responses to this statement.

CCC will be meeting with coordinators in March to collect views and give information on any further developments. Updates will appear on these web pages when available.

A list of Hub coordinators will be available shortly.