Latest Update from Cumbria County Council

5 March 2011 at 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.

Fibre to the home Council, Milan 2011

25 February 2011 at 16:22 in guest post by Tom Woof

As the only community representative at the Ftth council in Milan, I was definitely in the minority where 3500 delegates gathered to further the cause of Fibre to the Home.  As a potential end user I was also in the minority, as most of the other delegates represented suppliers of a bewildering array of equipment for fibre.  They supplied, ducts, fibre, sub ducts, jointers, splitters, access nodes, manholes, data handling equipment for putting TV and telephone systems into the fibre.

What struck me first of all was the sheer number of ways that fibre can be put around.  It can go through special ducts, existing ducts, sewers, water and gas pipes, buried directly, wrapped around electricity wires, hang off garden fences.  It can go almost anywhere.

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Part III: The Funding and Service Model for Eden Valley FTTP

18 January 2011 at 12:16 in guest post by Barry Forde

The third and final part of Barry Forde‘s smash-hit series on how the communities of the Eden Valley could get Fibre To The Premises by themselves:


The first thing to get clear is that what we want to do is build, own and operate a fibre optic network to 100% of the properties in the Eden Local Authority District.

This would be a community asset owned and operated for the benefit of the people of the district and not to generate profits for anyone. However it has to be of top quality, highly reliable, future proofed and sustainable.

The fibre layer is a natural monopoly and whoever digs it first will automatically shut out any one else from doing so as the cost of duplicating the network build would be un-fundable. So rather than leave it to the tender mercies of the market it makes sense to do it via a community benefit structure.

However the supply of ISP services to properties in the district over the fibre network is a separate issue and we should encourage the market to take up the opportunities and to compete. There is no reason why a number of ISPs could not opt to offer service either across the whole district or just a small section of it.

Some areas, such as Penrith, might have several ISPs offering a range of different products.

Other parishes might opt to use a local CIC to deliver service. There is a local Cable TV company based in Carlisle and they could offer a full triple or quad play service over the fibre network.

The intention is that the “Fibre Company” takes care of the fibre layer and makes it available to the providers of service in the same way that Openreach makes MPFs/SMPFs or GEA products available to CPs. The model is identical.

Let’s give “FibreCo” a name to reflect its role, Eden District Fibre Co or EDFC. Its structure needs to be designed to allow for four things:

1. The fibre and associated assets needs to be owned by the community in perpetuity
2. The company has to have a social benefit structure acceptable to the rating authorities so it could have discretionary rates relief on the fibre tax.
3. It needs to be able to issue shares or some form of subscription to take in money, but it also needs to be able to repay this if the shareholder/subscriber wants it back in the future. There is no intention to pay dividends but perhaps this needs thinking about?
4. It should be tax efficient

I think from previous discussions on the BroadbandCumbria that this might point us towards an Industrial and Benevolent Society (BenCom) but we need to take advice to ensure the four key points are met.

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12 Steps to FTTP: A Design Methodology for the Eden Valley

11 January 2011 at 21:04 in guest post by Barry Forde

Part Two of Barry Forde‘s smash-hit three part series on how the communities of the Eden Valley could get Fibre To The Premises by themselves:

Barry Forde

Step 1. We would start with a map of Eden District with the 74 Parish boundaries plus the 4 Penrith Wards marked on it. Look at each of the 78 areas and identify a logical central point within each where FTTP hub equipment could be located. For instance, many parishes will have a village or cluster of properties within them, and this would be the logical central place to locate a network FTTP hub.

But it would be wrong to assume that this place would be in the geographical centre as in most instances it would not be. For very small parishes, it might be more logical to attach the properties to an adjacent parish to avoid having too many very small hubs.

It would probably be sensible to set the cut off point at around the 100 property mark, which would take 28 parishes out of the list, leaving 50 FTTP nodes across the district. But this would be up for discussion as the design matures.

Step 2. would be to talk with parish champions to see if they consider it a good location from which to run fibre out to reach all properties within the parish. If so, could they then identify a suitable property to attach the hub to? For instance, might there be a village hall with spare space? Or could a a small annex be built on to house the kit?

If there is no suitable space, then we would need to install a street cabinet instead, and again the best location for it would need to be identified. Space requirements would vary depending on the number of properties being served from the node. I would allow one rack for equipment and then another one per 500 odd properties served.

Step 3. We would also need to identify suitable locations in Penrith and Kirkby Stephen to be the north and south end core nodes for the network. These would need to have additional space as there would be extra equipment located in them. More on this later.

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255,075 reasons to get FTTP (Fibre to the Premises)

28 December 2010 at 08:45 in guest post by Thane Brooker

If community-led deployments are to succeed on a large scale, there must be a clearly thought out sales process and all residents must fully understand the benefits and value that FTTP will bring to them before they are asked for their support and commitment.

There has been much talk of how superfast broadband would enable forthcoming applications such as telemedicine and high-definition 3D movies on demand, and how fibre would be an investment in our children’s future.  However, while this is all true and exciting, it is non-specific and unlikely to convince the average family with already reasonable broadband (by today’s standards) to dig up their garden.

What we need to explain is how fast symmetric broadband, with free inter- and intra-Parish connectivity at 1Gbps, will add value and enrich our lives on a personal and household level immediately and in clear monetary terms.

This post is a first attempt to list some of the tangible benefits that households, schools, and businesses would realistically receive within 6 months of installation.  The ideas listed here will form the basis of a sales process that we can use to will  the community and obtain the commitments necessary for success, so please add all your ideas to the comments at the bottom of this post.

No idea should be considered too whacky or silly, as long as it is realistic.  Remember, 255,075 people live in rural Cumbria, and if an idea convinces just one person to commit effort or a wayleave, it is a worthwhile idea.

Here are some ideas that may strike a chord with residents and encourage them to dig:

1. Increased property prices (this needs to be quantified/cited – any Estate Agents here to help?).

2. Can watch BBC iPlayer HD without stuttering.

3. Can stream iTunes collections/DVD collections with friends and family in neighbouring Parishes.

4. Tele-vet service (many consider telemedicine to be something the NHS should organise and therefore out of local community control, but a local tele-vet service is something that could realistically be offered to local farmers/horse owners).

5. HD Skype to friends and family in other areas/countries with fast symmetric broadband.

6. New classroom activities introduced (this will need to be more specific–any teachers here?).

7. Cheap access to local off-site backup (for backing up video, pictures, music, data)–data wouldn’t need to hit backhaul and could simply be sent to a removable hard drive at a friend’s house, or a more professional service offered by the local techy.

8. Local techys could offer new services to local residents to generate additional income streams (any local techys here with ideas?).

9. Any teens/children (and adults!) would appreciate low-latency for online gaming with friends.

10. Holiday homes and caravan parks could generate additional revenue by charging for fast Internet access.

11. Guest homes/B&Bs could market themselves to a different (and higher paying) clientele.

12. Anybody requiring care could have a direct, full-time video link to a carer in a neighbouring Parish.

13. Training and certification on how to lay and test fibre could help unemployed people obtain employment.

14. If the business model was right, the Parish could obtain a regular income from ISPs paying to offer their services over the infrastructure.

15. If the business model was right, the high (but intangible) value of owning “the last mile” could be realised through an IPO.

16. No more hassle: no more microfilters, no need to test different ADSL modems with different chipsets to get the best performance, and no need to remove the BT faceplate each time there is a fault (note: such hassle is likely to get worse as higher frequencies are pushed over further distances using BET).  Unlike ADSL, FTTP typically works or it doesn’t, and speed doesn’t drop off due to incompatibilities or interference.

17. Neighbourhood watch: anybody concerned about crime could use the network to monitor their property from a remote location.

18. Community radio (any budding DJs?  Or could this be offered as a practical exercise in schools?).

How will fast, reliable, symmetric and low-latency Internet access with free 1Gbps inter- and intra-Parish connectivity directly benefit you, your household, your neighbour, Mr Smith from the next Parish and Mrs Jones the local business owner?

Broadband, NGA, FTTC and the laws of unforeseen consequences

15 December 2010 at 19:06 in guest post by Barry Forde

Yesterday, Barry Forde, the brains behind CLEO, blogged on the “WiFiPie & CHIPS… With everything” Group. Lots of people have asked for Barry to expand on his thoughts. So, here - by popular demand - is an extended version.

Going back to basics what are we trying to do? I’d suggest two things:

  1. 1. Solve the problems of not-spots and grot-spots by getting broadband to them
  2. 2. Do that in a way that isn’t a short term solution, but a route to true NGA

If Cumbria does the first of these without the second, then it will end up with a 2Mbps service. This, we all agree, will be a woefully inadequate level of service within a very short period time. What is more, it will have gobbled up money better spent on other solutions.

So, the big challenge is how to procure something that delivers both requirements within the funding available. Is this even possible?

There seem to be two options on the table:

  1. ♦ BT’s FTTC product, within which some bits of the district would get FTTC, a subset would get FTTP, and another subset would get satellite connectivity with some BET connections
  2. ♦ FTTP via commercial or community initiatives

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