Shinness Broadband Investigation

What Next?

Now that our request has been turned down, as I see it there are two options remaining to us …

  1. Follow the path of least resistance, accept the decision, attempt nothing to help ourselves, and wait for either the UK (HMG) &/or the Scottish Governments (SG) to provide funding to give us something better, most likely via the latter's current policy for reaching the final 5% by 2021.  That is certainly the simplest option.  However, a concern is that we don't know how the plans of either government will meet their publicly declared targets for better broadband to those communities like us who will not be covered by current schemes  Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) exists to encourage community self-help schemes, most of which are based on wireless technology, and is also scoping the work for the SG's last 5% policy, this being led locally by Magda Macdonald, yet recent communications from them have mentioned improved mobile coverage in hopeful terms, while apparently there is talk within the SG of not widening existing infrastructure, but merely giving last 5% households vouchers to subsidise their broadband connections via satellite.  However, our own investigations show that these last two technologies are pro rata by far and away the most expensive way to obtain broadband!  Further, we already know that any substantive improvement via the SG's policy is very unlikely to happen before 2018 at the very earliest, and in actual fact may not be very much before the end of 2021 at the latest, and both those dates assume that policies won't change meanwhile  if a political landslide changes the political landscape, or if Brexit hits the economy hard, it must be expected that all such current policies must then be subject to budgetary review, especially as I have some reason to believe that currently much or all of the relevant funding originates from the European Union (EU).
  2. The other alternative is to "take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them!".  We could investigate alternatives for ourselves.  However, from the outset we need to be clear about two things.  The first is that we would have to think about the wider community around Lairg, because we are the biggest single identifiable 'group' within it, and we would not wish to obtain a solution that just helped ourselves without considering how that same solution could be extended to help others in the same situation as us.  The second is that it would almost certainly involve finding some cash on our part, either from the generosity of local businesses or individuals, &/or by would-be subscribers paying lump sum connection fees or yearly payments well in advance to fund the installation of the necessary infrastructure.  To do this openly and transparently, we would probably have to form some sort of legal entity.  The amount of cash we'd need to find would depend on what technology we decided upon  the two main contenders being wireless, the cheapest option, and optical fibre, the most expensive.  In order to help the community come to a decision about whether and how to proceed further, I include below some links to existing community self-help schemes that I've come across while researching our difficulties, some or all of which we might wish to use as a model or just as a source of inspiration.

Whether the first and simplest option is also the cheapest in the long term, only individual businesses and householders can decide  businesses already paying out large ongoing sums of money for a supposedly 'business', but actually much poorer, level of service, and even householders paying for a satellite broadband service on top of their existing landline telephone service, may well think it a worthwhile investment to fund some form of alternative solution, while others, particularly those without much interest in the internet or those with little cash to spare, may prefer to sit on their hands and wait, however long it may take.

Another point which needs to be considered is whether the community wishes my own involvement to continue.  My own attitude is along the lines of "I've started so I'll finish!", but it may be felt that someone else might be able to do a better job, or simply that an extra head or two may think collectively better than one. 

A similar consideration is the creation of a forum to discuss such things.  Using my own web-site like this to report back to the community was not actually my first choice, as I had heard that there had been a local Community Association with its own Facebook page, but further enquiries have revealed that it is now defunct.  Hence, in the absence as yet of anything better, I've installed some forum software on this site, and set up Shinness Community Forum, which is open to anyone who wants to use it  all you have to do is register, and email me at administrator@shinnesscommunityforum.macfh.co.uk asking that I check you in …
   Shinness Community Forum.

Appended are the promised links to example schemes, just three of the five or more schemes that I've already contacted for information and help  there are many more throughout the UK  and a table comparing those schemes for which I have meaningful figures.  First however, Prof Gordon Hughes of High-Speed Universal Broadband for Scotland (HUBS) has been kind enough to give me permission to quote from his email to me:

"I notice … that there are wind farms in the area of Lairg.  Presumably they have community funds available whose coverage would include Shinness.

Ask them for £5,000 to pay for building a pilot project designed to cover as much of Shinness as possible.  From the map I am pretty sure that it would be possible to cover 10-15 properties within that budget from a single fixed wireless relay on high ground.  The relay could be connected to a dedicated Ethernet circuit via the FTTC service at Lairg provided that you have a friend close to the cabinet who is prepared to host a small box containing a small amount of kit.  You can pay for their connection in exchange.

As John (Williams of HCB) knows, rather than spending a lot of time planning and lobbying for action by deaf bureaucracies the most productive way forward is to get a pilot started and then build on that.  Fixed wireless equipment is cheap and can offer you a substantial improvement from where you are now.  Depending upon backhaul you should get at least 20-25Mbps symmetric.



We  HUBS and previously the Tegola Project (google Tegola)  have set up a number of small projects of this kind.  Some of them stay small, others grow to cover much larger areas.  All of them have got going with a combination of local initiative plus some external technical assistance.  Typically the shared cost for small pilots of this kind is £15-20 per month if you cover the initial capital cost from grants and/or modest setup charges for radio antennas and routers.

If this approach appeals, then please let me know.  The key point is to do something both cheap and quick."

Community Broadband Comparative Data
 B4RNHeriot
Community
Broadband
Humbienet1Locheilnet1Loch Tay InternetMearns
Broadband
Initiative
(marykirk.com)1
SkyeNet
TechnologyFTTPWirelessWirelessWirelessWirelessWirelessWireless
Current Costs/Funding£4,800,000£73,000£152,000 £130,709£30,400 
How RaisedLocal SupportLocal SupportCBS + othersCBS + othersCBS + othersCBS + othersCBS + others
Time To Raise (months)3  3 6 
Premises Covered2,30080250 15080 
Costs/Funding Per Premises£2,0873£913£608 £871£380 
Customer Connection Cost£150.00    £90.00£100.00
Customer Monthly Cost£30.00£12.50£25.00£36.00£39.99£30.00£19.80
Download Speed (Mbps)100020410355083
Upload Speed (Mbps)100010210   
Download Limit (GB) 100100100100100100
Pro Rata Cost
(£ per Mbps per GB pcm)2
£0.0003£0.0063£0.0250£0.0103£0.0080£0.0375£0.0792

Notes:

  1. Example tariff chosen is cheapest that gives 100GB download limit.
  2. Where no download limit is enforced, assumed equivalent to 100GB.
  3. The discrepancy between these figures is apparently explained by the fact that the figure in the email from B4RN refers to all premises in the areas covered by their fibre, regardless of whether or not any given premises had chosen to become a B4RN customer, whereas I just divided the total expenditure by the number of customers.
  4. John Williams has explained that HCB are to change the download speeds quoted on their website, as initially by deliberate policy they kept them low to avoid misleading potential customers, whereas in fact existing customers are receiving a minimum of 20Mbps.

Other considerations: