This blog post can be read at 5tth.blogspot.com
There are now so many pots of money flying around for rural and urban broadband that it is incredibly easy to get confused. And that's those of us in the know. For those new to the party, it's difficult to believe that it's going to be possible to navigate the acronyms, processes etc and arrive at the correct, long term, sustainable solution, rather than just endeavour to spend the money on sticking plasters. And probably fail.
It would be fantastic if all of us who had campaigned so long and so hard for rural broadband to receive attention (and funding) were right now sitting here cheering that progress was being made. But the reality is that this is all looking like a right royal cock up that is being rushed through with little thought to what actually should be being done. But, no doubt, those who believe they are right will continue unchecked, without listening to those on the ground who can see the problems that this could all cause.
The places where the problems are going to occur are not in well-funded offices with annual budgets due to be renewed in April, but in hard-pushed communities already struggling to stay afloat and suffering volunteer fatigue, as government pushes its problems out of its departments and the civil service into the hands of the overtaxed and unpaid public.
So, with a quick background first, we have questions.....
RCBF comes from Defra and is from the Rural Development Program for England pot. It is aimed specifically at rural areas who qualify in the Final 10% (although this on the whole has not been defined by anyone yet) and community projects. (Unlike the £100M the other day, which is for urban projects, and is a slice of the £530M taken from the BBC License Fee and which was intended for the Final Third).
The reality is that all of this money, even with a zero added, is not sufficient for the task. But, instead of trying to do a few areas well with the money we have, we are slicing and dicing the pots into such small amounts that we are going to end up doing nowhere properly. Any business run in this way would be on its knees in a few months, probably weeks.
Currently, there is an Applicant's Handbook and a 5 page Rural Community Broadband Toolkit to guide you through the maze that is designed to part communities from 75% of the project costs. Section 7 of the Applicant's Handbook includes the completely bizarre statement under Value For Money
Based on BDUK’s experience of establishing Superfast Broadband solutions (24Mbps and above) in hard to reach areas, we would expect that a Superfast Broadband connection should require an average grant aid of approximately £300 per premise enabled.
(I'm sure all of us would love to know precisely where this BDUK experience has been gained considering the current state of play with BDUK bids in this country).
Expressions of interest for the RCBF are due in between 1st Dec and 31st January 2012. Which gives you, as Pastieman69 pointed out, about one actual working day to get it together if you are an average community.
The applicant is fully responsible for any liabilities associated with the project, such as the clawback of grant funds (potentially plus a penalty) should the project fail to deliver against your contract.
So if the network/upgrade is deemed substandard due to contractor fault(s) the community has to pay? Even if the contractor is BT/Fujitsu? Seems to be heavily in the telcos' favour to trigger this and then move in to remedy once the community have paid in full for it.
You cannot claim for any costs incurred in advance of securing approval of any full application.
So any consultants parachuted in to work on the EOI/work towards full bid with the community would have to be paid for by the community?
You will only be able to recover expenditure once you have been able to provide evidence that you have paid for it. This means that you can only claim against actual defrayed expenditure – at a static intervention rate for each claim.
Who decides the defrayed payment rate, and what happens if suddenly the price is increased overnight?
You will therefore need to make arrangements to pay for all works up front, meaning that you will need some reserve funds or other means to "bank roll" the project.
Ok, pay for it all from within the community, and we'll give you the allocation of funds to cover the "assumption of £300 per premise and up to 50%". What returns are investors/parishes & CIC's expected to get to repay any money borrowed against the project to fund it? And, more importantly, who will actually own the infrastructure - the community or the contractor/telco used to build/connect to it?
If procuring services, you will need to comply with public procurement rules appropriate to any contracts you put out to tender, and you will need to treat all bidders transparently and equally in your procurement process(es).
If you have to talk to/go through a telco to set this all up before putting out to tender, how can it be transparent tendering if you then award them the contract? Who will pay for the tender if it has to go through TED/OJEU?
Every single cost is already known for each technology. Except ONE. Backhaul. Where is the solution for getting affordable backhaul to each and every one of the communities in the final 10% or the Final Third?