There’s no question that a good fast reliable broadband connection is rapidly becoming a necessity these days. Anyone who isn’t able to access fast broadband and use the facilities it provides, will find themselves disadvantaged not only economically but socially.
Scotland experiences particular challenges in providing the kind of infrastructure a modern digital economy needs. The biggest of these is the large number of rural communities which need to be served in a cost effective way. The central belt containing high population densities, can be catered for in a commercial viable way relatively easily. The infrastructure providers, such as Open Reach, can justify the cost of improving services in Glasgow (for example), as they need to remain competitive and will see a positive return on their investment. In the many rural areas of Scotland where there is little or no competition and a modest number of potential users, there is little incentive to improve services.
This is no secret and the issue has sparked considerable debate. The Scottish government aspires to put Scotland on a par with the rest of Europe by 2020. Click on the link below to see the thoughts of Nicola Sturgeon MSP on Scotlands digital Future.
Lofty ambitions and the least that the population of Scotland deserve. But, how are they going to do it?
In 2010 81% of the population of Scotland lived on 6 % of the land
The Scottish government aims to connect 95% of premises to next generation broadband by 2017. A quick look at the map above shows that they only need serve the central belt to achieve their aim. This realistically leaves the population of the remaining 90% of Scottish Land mass coping with the patchy service it currently receives.
Of course, some initiatives do exist to help rural communities. Probably the largest of these is Community Broadband Scotland, for full details follow the link to their website below:
The Scottish Government has provided £5 million to CBS to provide start up funding to qualifying rural communities around Scotland. This seems to take the form of a start up fund which is available in three stages:
- Seed Fund Grant of up to £2000 to test viability and community engagement.
- Project Planning Grant of up to £15000 to plan the project
- Capital Funding Grant of up to 89%(no absolute £ figures available on the website) to complete the project.
All very good. But, just how much bang are we getting for our buck?
Unfortunately, I have no figures relating to the cost of finished projects, but judging by the funding available for the early stages(up to £17k) £30k-£40k doesn’t seem unreasonable. Looking at some of the case studies this figure could be much higher.
For the schemes that have worked, I am sure they are a massive improvement for the communities involved. But, they also seem to have several disadvantages:
- Every project is a new challenge, requiring considerable resource to get the project off the ground and bring it to completion.
- Not all grants applied for will lead to a completed projected meaning wasted funding.
- The project relies on community cooperation to continue, often with volunteers keeping it going. What if the key members leave the community or lose interest?
- Cost per house covered and Mbps achieved is probably quite high.
- We aren’t always very good at playing together. I would love to know how many fallouts occur over data usage, band width consumption etc.
At the end of CBS’s funding I would be very interested to see the “cost per household covered” of the project.
Easy to criticise, but is there a viable alternative? I would argue that there is.
Satellite Broadband technology and cost has moved on considerably over the last few years offering download speeds of up to 22Mbps and upload speeds of 6Mbps. Easily comparable with the broadband speeds received by the residents of many cities.
Costs have also come down. Follow the link to our website below to take a look at broadband package costs.
As you can see( if you looked) average start up costs are around £300 with monthly costs around £25.
In this case a £30k investment would provide up to 20Mbps broadband speeds to around 100 properties. With several benefits:
- We are not “reinventing the wheel” for each project the technology is tried trusted and easily installed.
- Each user is independent of the other users.
- No wasted funding on unviable projects
- All of the cost goes to providing broadband.
I have approached Community Broadband Scotland about the possibility of Satellite Broadband being included in their mix of potential solutions. Predictably, I have had no response. I feel that the project is at least partly influenced by political dogma rather than purely looking at the most efficient and expedient solution.
I know how many households I could have provided with fast broadband if I was given 5 million quid. I would love to know how many Community Broadband Scotland managed to provide.
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