By Charles Paxton (LVC Local Broadband Champion)
The Reagill broadband meeting has borne some useful fruit. I’d hoped for about 30 people, we got about half that number but they included people very active in the communities of Reagill, Sleagill, Morland and Kings Meaburn too. Just the right people for spreading the word further. It was a small but useful gathering, with interesting information gleaned. Hopefully they will spread the word amongst their friends and neighbours.
Our guest speaker was Craig Brass the NextGenUs Regional manager for Cumbria and formerly a resident of Crosby Ravensworth. He treated us to the same projected presentation that Parish Councilors and Broadband champions had watched in Cliburn.
NextGenUs have just completed a community broadband project in Ashby in Lincolnshire where the village was ringed with fibre optic cable and people dug the fibre in to their gardens from their property line back to their home to get the fastest residential broadband speed in the UK. NextGenUs would like to do the same thing here with our communities. Because they are a properly registered Community Interest Company, 65% of the profits from each scheme must be returned to the community purpose for which they were established. Craig explained that in 5 to 7 years time (after the network was paid for) revenues from our projects would return to our Parish Councils to fund upgrades to the service and to fund community projects. Craig says “Rollout would be carried out under a Community Interest Company model meaning 65% of all profits get reinvested into the community. This would bring improvements to speeds on the network as well as provide donations to projects within the village. By subscribing you would be indirectly supporting your local community.”
“Deployment depends on 80-90% uptake by the middle of December with the aim of having the service live in the first half of next year. We need your help to reach this target.”
“£29.95 is the monthly charge – but remember this should be compared to the current phone line + broadband charge of £30 a month average. Once subscribed to our service you will be able to cancel your existing phone line (should you so wish) and route calls over your fibre line.”
Hypothetically it looks possible that Reagill and Sleagill residents who want to participate in a community fast broadband scheme will be able to join after all, in concert – probably with an intermediate wireless solution serving both communities leading on to Fibre To The Home as a final goal of the development, on the promise that when the network is paid for, in about 5 to 7 yrs time, perhaps a bit later if mobile phone repeater masts are included in the package, 65% of profits will return to those respective communities via their Parish councils. Tom Wilcox of Reagill and Tony Edwards of Sleagill are going to arrange a meeting in Sleagill Village Hall (again attended by Craig Brass) to gather more people in those communities, answer more questions and try to aggregate demand within those two communities, so anybody who missed the November 23 meeting has a chance to attend that one. Hopefully they will gather 80%+ of current broadband users to the banner because that is what we’ll need in order to make it happen.
It emerged from the meeting that there is interest in signing up with the NextGenUs Community Interest Company scheme among some residents of Reagill and Sleagill especially if the issue of mobile phone reception is addressed at the same time. Then people will be happier about giving up their land-line and the economics will weigh powerfully in favour of signing up for the future-proof service. Craig Brass has indicated that this will be possible if there is sufficient demand. Nextgenus could add the additional cost of the repeater mast into the package so that we can have the service concurrently as many sign-ups are likely to be contingent on this important factor. Though it is important to note that fibre-optic internet can still be used in power-cuts in conjunction with lap-tops if there is a battery-powered box installed that cuts in when mains power dies. Craig says that there would be a 48 hr service agreement for any necessary maintenance.
I expect that this mobile phone signal boost would also lend wings to our First Responders Group. Our FR pagers use Vodafone, I understand. People’s landline plus broadband package combined will probably vary between £25-35 per month, the NextGenUs charge for residential use would be about £30 per month for a two year contract, £44.95 for businesses.
Furthermore, Craig informed us that there is a chance that the sign-up fee (£149.95 residential, £249.95 business) could be partially or even totally refunded if NextGenUs can access BDUK grant money for the purpose. This won’t be known until the end of 2012, but the percentage of sign-ups will indicate to BDUK the level of importance that people place on Community broadband and I imagine that a higher interest is more likely to be rewarded, though it is unusual to award grants in retrospect – this is an unusual situation. It’s quite special for communities to arrange their communication networks in a cooperative fashion – the epitome of Big Society self-reliance in action.
It seems important that NextGenUs and local broadband champions address some of the questions raised at the meeting in writing on our respective websites as this information will facilitate getting our Parish Council’s blessing and more rapidly help inform our other residents’ decisions to sign up or not. Important facts emerged tonight that were hitherto unknown to me:
The 80% sign-up requirement is for existing broadband customers to switch – not 80% of all households in a community. This makes the plan a whole lot more feasible.
The financial backers of the NextGenUs scheme are the Japanese providers of the fibre-optic equipment – hence the very favourable terms and patience for pay-back (very low interest rates are the norm in Japan). If we tried to run our own Communications CIC we would have to set up similar patient finance and attract other communities to join us and utilise all means of defraying costs in order to get the prices that NextGenUs are offering for the service. That would be quite a daunting proposition – not impossible, but much harder than taking up the NextGenUs offer and we’d probably need to rely upon their expertise in setting up the network anyway. The Great Asby Broadband Group is using NextGenUs to update their community broadband system. Customers would not be required to pay any money until the day their service is initiated. Contracts to other providers could thus naturally expire (if within 2011) and customers could switch over to optical fibre service that same day.
Craig Brass explained that though it is likely that BT could probably offer us a fibre to the cabinet service eventually, that couldn’t exceed 40 Mbps and we might have to wait a while before they got around to servicing our area. No money would be returned to community coffers and it would merely delay the desirable deployment of Fibre to the home.
It is possible that Community broadband could bring far-reaching benefits to our residents (please click here to see how).