The gulf between politicians and the rooted electorate is never more clearly demonstrated than in vacuous puffs the government too often announces, trumpeting funding that amounts to pocket money for schemes that are often of little value.
First read this press release that came in yesterday and see what you make of it. We have since contacted the Scottish Government and give the information received below.
Press release: Broadband help for rural communities – new initiative launched
‘A £5 million fund could help bring next generation broadband to communities in Argyll and Bute, it was announced today.
‘The Community Broadband Scotland initiative will act as a one-stop-shop for rural community groups, providing them with information and advice to find solutions for broadband delivery in their areas.
‘From October, a new telephone helpline and website delivering advice and practical support will be made available, and, a dedicated team of staff will work on the ground to provide hands on assistance to groups in need.
‘Communities in Argyll and Bute will be eligible to apply for seed funding under the initiative to enable them to obtain greater access to the internet.
‘The first round of funding will focus on supporting a small number of community projects, which will be used as case studies for wider roll out across Scotland.
‘Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, Alex Neil, said:
‘ “Everyone recognises the importance of access to broadband to ensure that our local communities flourish.
“Broadband should not be considered a luxury in rural areas in Argyll and Bute; it is essential to enhance the quality of life and stimulate the growth of the local economy.
‘ “This investment of £5 million, over the next three years, will see targeted support being provided to community projects to enable them to deliver broadband solutions for their areas.
” “Increasing access to broadband is a key priority area for the Scottish Government, and we are currently progressing plans to develop a world class digital infrastructure by 2020.”
‘Alex Paterson, Highlands and Islands Enterprise Chief Executive, said:
‘ “This is an important new initiative which will support communities develop innovative solutions to bring fast, reliable broadband services to some of Scotland’s most rural locations. While there are challenges there can be significant economic and social benefits from improving broadband. The seed fund will provide the help communities need to ensure Scotland has a world class digital network by 2020.”
‘Councillor Stephen Hagan, COSLA’s Regeneration and Sustainable Development spokesperson said:
‘ “I welcome the launch of the seed fund and the start of a project to investigate what can be delivered in terms of improved broadband coverage for all Scottish communities, no matter how remote they are from the current broadband network. Cosla look forward to being involved in the work on delivering a series of case studies across a wide range of different communities with varying needs and existing infrastructure.
‘ “Hopefully these communities can benefit from the support offered by Community Broadband Scotland to deliver benefits for themselves and others in terms of sustainably funding infrastructure to deliver faster broadband across all of Scotland by 2020.”
‘Martyn Evans, Chief Executive of the Carnegie UK Trust said:
‘ “High speed broadband is fast becoming an essential service – providing access to public services, supporting local economies and enhancing quality of life. It is essential that rural areas are not left behind as superfast broadband technology becomes more widely available across Scotland.
‘ “The Carnegie UK Trust believes that local communities are often best placed to tackle the issues that they face. The Community Broadband Scotland initiative will give a number of pioneering communities the support and inspiration to take that critical first step to their broadband future.” ‘
It’s obvious from this text that:
- There is a £5 million fund for something to help rural communities with broadband
- There will be a helpline and a help website with the ubiquitous ‘toolkit’
- There will a team of dedicated staff helping communities in some way on something to do with improving their broadband
All of these things cost money to establish – but to what end?
The question is what exactly is it that communities can put forward and what will the government fund.
How exactly can communities improve their broadband when the major factor is the infrastruture?
We could find no indication at all in the announcement of the the sort of practical realities behind the fund.
We were amused to read the BBC’s account of the initiative from the same press release. They were obviously as foxed as we were but hadn’t bothered to ask questions.
Questions and answers
We asked the question this morning – ‘What can communities put forward here and what will the government fund?’
The spectrum of possibilities given was:
- they might like wifi and a router (true – but this will reduce not improve the speed of individual connections to the router)
- they might want a satellite connection
- they might want ‘white space’ (neither the government spokesperson nor we can explain this one. White space is an eccentric programming language but what it has to do with broadband speeds remains a mystery. One of our inhouse IT specialists has suggested that since white space is the unused portion of something, when talking about bandwidth it may mean unused sections of the radio spectrum like the old VHF tele space and the now less and less used 2G cell space etc.)
- they might want 4G (we pointed out that you can only get 4G if the infrastructure is there – it’s not – and the whole £5m wouldn’t go far on that front)
- they could ‘buy fibre’ (we pointed out that again this is an infrastructural matter and that the fund woudn’t get very far on fibre optic cable installation for £5m)
We asked what sort of propositions the government would fund. The answer amounted to ‘Anything’.
We asked what the limit to funding was for a single application. The answer was ‘None’. There is neither a minimum nor a maximum limit.
We asked what is the notional number of community proposals the fund is envisaged as supporting. This has not been considered.
There is is a three year fund and the first tranche of it opens in ‘October’, with a total of £1 million to distribute.
Our advice is that communities who would be helped either by:
- something straightforward like community wifi and a router
- something sophisticated – like a microwave link, obviously open to proposal and not excluded by funding limits
should start getting their proposals ready now and have them in good order to go as soon as the fund opens.
It is worth pointing out that, whatever the government says and has clearly not thought out in this, £1 million for the first tranche indicates that the assumption is that this will fund projects of modest value.
But Microwave links are possible, The island of Eilean Righ in Loch Craignish, which has recently been advertised for sale and on which we published – is owned by a senior figure in the City of London financial industry who clearly needs fast internet links to stockmarket movements – and has a microwave link to the island.
The governemnt website says: ‘Community Broadband Scotland will initially be targeted at communities in the 10-15% sector of the population least likely to benefit from a next generation broadband (NGB) solution under the Scottish Government’s Step Change 2015 Programme’.
Community consultation on this is now ongoing – we have published on and given the link to the document which sets out the scheme for the Highlands and Islands, supported by HIE.
This targeting of the fund on communities abandoned to medieval communications as time goes on makes it even more worthwhile and important for applying communities to be ambitious and to think long term in what they propose.
They will be communities that will not, in the medium to long term, get a significantly better broadband service than the feeble one they already have – if they do.
This is essentially a summertime silly season announcement to keep the natives happy by throwing the promise of a few buns into the pit.
There is not even anywhere communities can go to on 1st October when the fund opens.
The advice we have been given is that you should keep your eyes on this generic FAQs webpage. Information will eventually appear.