Kinlochard Broadband Group, Status Report May 2018

Kinlochard Broadband Group

Status Report May 2018

The following explains the current status of broadband connectivity for Kinlochard for the meeting of the Kinlochard Broadband Group at 4.30pm on Friday 25 May.

  1. The Fibre Trial which BT established in 2017 for a number of residential properties at Drumlean is operational and is providing these homes and small businesses with significantly improved and reliable broadband speeds. The old fibre lines used in this trial are apparently quite common throughout Scotland and residents in Inversnaid and Stronachlachar might benefit from a similar approach.
  2. Community Broadband Scotland has ceased to operate. The Scottish Government is set to transfer its objectives to the R100 programme which aims in theory to provide all Scottish homes with superfast broadband by 2021. Under this programme, Scotland has been divided into three regions and Digital Scotland is currently working on tenders for these regions. In November 2017, as CBS was scaling down its operations we took the decision to withdraw from any community partnership solution for Kinlochard. No private company had thus far come forward with a viable alternative solution to bring an improved service to the village and without CBS to manage the process we felt that there was no likelihood of a successful outcome. Brig o’ Turk and Balquhidder are the only two remaining areas in Stirling to proceed with a community managed solution and they are also relying heavily on Stirling Council funding.
  3. The Gainshare programme is now in its second phase with profits from BT recycled into further rural connectivity. Following Brendan Dick’s visit to the village in August 2017, BT put Kinlochard forward to Digital Scotland as a possible and viable beneficiary of Gainshare funding. However, there has been no further progress on the allocation of Gainshare funds and there are many more communities now seeking to benefit from these limited funds. I also understand that BT will have less influence than in phase one and decisions will be taken at a national and local level but brokered by Digital Scotland. As of 20 April, Stirling Council still has no information about the allocation or level of Gainshare funding.
  4. Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband (DSSB) has rebranded. It continues to provide an interactive website provision to inform residents throughout the country about the status of High Speed Broadband into their properties. Currently the DSSB stated position on the website for Kinlochard is: “Digital Scotland plans to extend fibre broadband coverage in this area. Work under the Digital Scotland Programme means that the first premises in this exchange area are currently expected to receive fibre broadband in the period July to December 2018”. Whilst this sounds positive, I have been in frequent communication with Digital Scotland and they cannot elaborate on this assessment. Also Stirling Council has no information about any works programmed for Kinlochard this year. Digital Scotland will not meet or speak directly with local groups. They will only communicate by email. This was their last communication to me: “Dear Colin……..There is some very good news for Kinlochard since you last spoke to Duncan. Your community has benefited from the recent injection of additional funding – thanks to early successful take-up through the programme. This new funding has allowed us to create extended build plans running until the end of 2018. It is what is referred to as “Gainshare”. So, we aim to reach some premises in Kinlochard with fibre broadband access before the end of 2018. It is important to note that deployment plans are always subject to change due to the size and complexity of this type of civil engineering project. A number of different factors that can cause delays, or stop build, might be uncovered during the fibre engineering journey. These include things like local topology and geography, planning requirements, the existing engineering infrastructure and the availability of suitable technologies to provide a service”. However, I think we need to be careful about how we interpret these statements. The target dates are not backed up by any information held by Stirling Council or BT and we are already five months into 2018. In fact, there is some evidence that no decisions on the allocation of Gainshare funding have yet been agreed and signed off by the Scottish Government.
  5. The Forest Hills Hotel in Kinlochard is currently undergoing some refurbishment. Open Reach and Brendan Dick have confirmed that the Business arm of BT is currently carrying out work to bring fibre cable into the hotel. Neither MacDonald Hotels nor BT informed us about this although in fairness, Brendan is now going to discuss the issue with BT’s Head of Business Scotland. For the last three years I understood we had an unwritten, one in; all in, agreement that both hotel and residents would work together for an improved service. I have written to the MacDonald Hotels IT Director but have not yet had a reply. I understand that the fibre currently being run to Forest Hills is not accessible to domestic customers.
  6. Gartmore Village is being offered a ‘fibre to the premises’ service by BT. This follows local company, Briscona providing an alternative and popular service in the village. This does not help us in the short term but it probably underlines acknowledgement by BT that if it is to win and deliver any of the R100 tenders it must adapt to the difficulties of rural connectivity.

Current Actions

  1. Following contact with Brendan Dick at BT, he has arranged a meeting on our behalf with Fiona Muir from Digital Scotland, representatives from Open Reach and BT Business. This is in response to our query about high speed fibre coming into Kinlochard on poles to Forest Hills Hotel and our question about its relevance for the rest of the village. This meeting is scheduled for Tuesday 12 June.
  2. Stirling Council has made funding available for local communities seeking to explore ways in which they can improve digital connectivity. Grants of around £10,000 are being awarded to groups that can demonstrate a need. We have expressed interest in funding an independent feasibility study for Kinlochard based on the activity to date in and around the village.

The Kinlochard Broadband Group now needs to consider its position and identify any further actions we can take to accelerate bringing high speed fibre to the village.

Colin Smith