Now that our request has been turned down, as I see it there are two options remaining to us …
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.
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."
Heriot Community Broadband (HCB) - a Community Interest Company (CIC) based 16 miles outside of Edinburgh. I have been in contact with John Williams, their chairman, and I quote with his permission from some of his emails to me:
"Although Heriot is only 16 miles from Edinburgh, we too have the same wish here. We are
promised that BT will carry out an upgrade sometime next year, but of course we cannot discover who
will be connected, nor the method (FTTC or FTTP), both are vaguely talked about.
In fact Heriot has not waited for this to happen, and three years ago we set up our own high speed network using microwave links. We set this up on the same basis as the Tegola Project on the West Coast, HUBS And Tegola, and we have had tremendous help from the people who drove that project forward."
"You could try to get CBS interested, but we know from direct experience that they are terribly
bureaucratic and inclined to endless delays. They have funded a community near here (Humbie)
with an extremely generous subsidy, and that scheme has been allocated to a commercial provider,
which is a community venture that has gone commercial. We work with them to some degree as we
are quite close to Humbie. There are rumours that SG may well revamp the CBS structure as they
are dissatisfied with the lack of progress CBS has made.
HCB has received no public subsidies, but we have been funded by wind farm community benefit grants and also local estates. This has given us complete flexibility, and we have been able to grow organically, rather than drawing up a detailed plan with all the endless work that involves. You should think about alternative routes for finance. There are signs that some bodies such as Scottish Enterprise may be prepared to get involved - HUBS is talking to them."
"We may not be the typical project!
Having spent quite some time talking to professional operators of community schemes and trying to draw up a 'plan' we grew very disillusioned as the costs seemed huge and the detail ever expanding.
At that point we teamed up with Professor Peter Buneman at Edinburgh University (responsible for the Tegola project and HUBS). He told us we would never get off the ground going that route, and that the best route was simply to make a start, build a mast and connect people.
So we started with a £10,000 wind farm grant which was for exploration of possibilities and within that sum we built our first very low key mast and connected about 10 houses. This phase took about six months but most of it was spent in fruitless talks with the contractors. Actually deciding to go ahead and get people connected took about 6 weeks. We are lucky in that we have direct line of sight from hill tops to Edinburgh and can connect by microwave links to equipment there. You will need access to backhaul at some point where fibre is available I assume, and then transmit from there to a suitable hilltop for onward distribution.
Having demonstrated that we could make the scheme work, we then made another grant application for £30,000 which was awarded in summer 2013. Over the next year we built 3 more major relay masts, and a number of smaller local ones for retail connections. The grant paid for everything including the kit for individual connections. Other schemes quite often have to charge residents for this (about £250 per house roughly). We always use professional contractors for this which pushed up the cost, but insurance problems are insuperable for volunteers and anyway outside most people's skill levels!
We made a subsequent grant application in early 2015 for about £33,000 which has funded a further dramatic increase in our coverage. We also at this point decided to put out construction of our masts to the small firm that runs our network support and maintenance as although volunteer labour can work wonders, it is very difficult to organise and maintain.
We have received no public sector support at all - quite deliberately once we discovered how bureaucratic this is. CBS are pretty much a nightmare - Gordon Hughes did get a grant out of them for Stobo & Dawyck, but we have not applied to them. Local estates have given further support - often through self interest in the sense that shooting lodges are really keen to have broadband for their guests, but also in a purely altruistic spirit as they can see how beneficial high speed broadband can be for remote areas.
We now cover about 80 properties in Heriot (out of about 170 - some near the exchange get a decent service via BT) which is still growing. We have also connected several large nearby estates, all bar one outside our community. We have also connected a large wind farm (BT could not connect them). I know on the West Coast there are some salmon farms which are supplied a service via HUBS members. We are starting to connect residents in neighbouring communities on an ad hoc basis, by that I mean we are not making a pitch to the communities, but we are responding to requests for help.
Although Stobo & Dawyck are some distance from Heriot, they also need to relay their service from Edinburgh. We therefore have ensured that there are direct interlinks between the two systems, and they are now for all practical purposes just one big network. Between us we now have about 35 masts in total and about 250 residential connections which expands all the time. We therefore have a network that stretches right across the Lammermuirs and Moorfoots. There is huge scope for our services to grow within this area, as there are many, many people whom we do not connect yet. Obviously we will not be trying to compete directly with fibre providers in the small towns and villages who are lucky enough to get this provision, but there will be many residences left out of course, just as is happening to you."
Loch Tay Internet This is a project part funded by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS). Currently they do not appear to have their own website. I quote again with permission from correspondence with Phil Simpson:
"Technology used: From a backhaul in Pitlochry it comes by microwave
radio in two hops to Loch Tay. There are 4 masts, Ecopops around Loch Tay that transmit
the signals back and forward. We still have some gaps to fill in and are planning some
How much funding up front: Not much, I think 10 or 15%, from memory.
Any ongoing costs covered by funding: No, we have appointed a contractor to build and run the whole affair. It will eventually be off my desk and the community's as the contractor, AB Internet, gets on with it.
How many premises covered: Nearly 80 at the moment with a list of about 20 waiting for the gaps to be filled.
Funding per premise: No idea, it was a price for the project.
Consumer cost per premise up front: £149.99 per installation.
Consumer cost per premise per month: Depends on the level of service they buy. 10Mbps up and down is £29.99 per month. This includes 100GB data limit. For an extra £5 per month they can get unlimited data."
Broadband For The Rural North (B4RN) - a remarkably successful Lancastrian rural community project based on optical fibre, that is much favoured by news media whenever they cover community broadband schemes. This is what they sent me in response to a request for information, particularly about costs and timescales, again quoted by permission:
"We planned it for years. We decided to do a serious plan in 2009, it took till 2010.
We couldn't get any funding whatsoever. We went to the people on Dec 15th 2011.
We raised the money from shares from the people and dug the first sod March 2012. We
connected the first customers in July 2012. We were able to cover costs by March 2013.
We employed first staff October 2014 so didn't rely totally on volunteers and now employ 16.
(Cost) about £8003 per premise. Still no funding, it is all built and
paid for by the people for the people.
Sorry for garbled reply, too many enquiries and too little time. It is all on the website and our facebook page, and we have showtell days if you want to come? News section on website. Good luck, if we can do it then you can too, many initiatives going on in Scotland."
|Loch Tay Internet
|CBS + others
|CBS + others
|CBS + others
|CBS + others
|CBS + others
|Time To Raise (months)
|Costs/Funding Per Premises
|Customer Connection Cost
|Customer Monthly Cost
|Download Speed (Mbps)
|Upload Speed (Mbps)
|Download Limit (GB)
|Pro Rata Cost
(£ per Mbps per GB pcm)2