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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A Community Fibre Conundrum

I've been putting in some serious hours over the last 5 or 6 months learning, thinking, plotting, promoting and nudging forward the whole community owned FTTH scenario in my locality. My labours have met with some modest successes, but at the same time the scale of the mountain of work ahead has become ever clearer, and more daunting as each week rolls by.

I did some back-of-a-fag-packet calculations on the work required to seriously establish and build the support of key players in the locality, work up a modest community awareness campaign, identify and secure the funds required for a credible feasibility study, and get the project to a point where the business case was established and we could go to market to identify the investment needed to take the thing forward. I reckoned that one focused and well motivated person, maybe me, could do the work required in 9 to 12 months working perhaps one or two days each week (allowing some time for earning a living).

In reality of course I, like most of us simply don't have that time available. I'm working to establish and build my business, and while this project could potentially become part of my business, right now it is volunteer labour that I can barely afford to do. 

My guess is that I'm not alone in this. How many would-be community fibre projects are out there, with plenty of goodwill and support from local authorities and other players, but with zero resource available to take them forwards? It seems a little crazy that a community owned FTTH project, which could generate perhaps £500k profit p.a. once established, is stymied from moving forward at the pace needed for the sake of maybe 10 or 15 grand of development support. Maybe I just need to be a little more creative about looking for funding support to move things on, but to my mind this is a real stumbling block right now.

The other key hurdle to overcome is access to expertise. A really useful resource that could prove invaluable for budding community fibre schemes globally is a knowledgebase. How does one create a successful community owned NGAN from the bottom up? I've been involved in cooperatives and cooperative development for many years so I've got some decent ideas, but it would be fabulous to get some knowledge sharing going on more widely, and learn what works well, and what doesn't. I know it would help me enormously if I could learn from the experience of others who have done or are doing what I'm trying to do. And I dare say I probably already know a few things that might be of value to others working to create other networks.

Who is out there doing similar things? If you share my enthusiasm for sharing some learning on the community FTTH front please let me know, and we can do something practical about it.

Lindsey's books mentioned elsewhere in this blog offer some valuable food for thought, although they are focussing on responses to the problems arising from ADSL rollout some years back. We are now into a second, and I think much more tsunami-like wave of FTTx rollout, and while we are still in the very early stages, the pace will surely quicken from here on in. Time's a wasting, must go and lobby a councillor...

4 comments:

John said...

Perhaps I can give you some practical advice. We are installing FTTH into new housing estates and I have explored all the options, including trends and new technology.
John Nixon
john.nixon@onefibre.com

John said...

ps: I forgot say where: New Zealand!

jfnolan said...

Graham,

You might try contacting Hambleden Valley at http://www.hambledenvalley.net/
They are doing some interesting work (including lobbying)on rural broadband. Good luck.

John Nolan
john.nolan@firstmilenetworks.co.uk

cooperfarncombe said...

Try Community Broadband Network CBN. They are having similar thoughts and could focus individual communities into a single voice to try and ensure that they do not get left out of NGA. http://www.broadband.coop/