. . . at least until after the 9th of May.
This advice is probably too late for some local authorities so apologies for the unhelpful suggestion to those who’ve sweat blood in the last few weeks and put together a submission to BDUK already. But if there’s any doubt in your mind that your bid isn’t quite what it might be then take my advice, submit an Expression of Interest and delay.
Ed Vaizey made it quite clear at Peter Aldous’ Suffolk broadband event last week – the money doesn’t run out next week – there is funding available for many more bids after next week’s closing date – and its far more important to get it right than get it early.
Why delay? In recent weeks there have been a number of significant announcements and movements in the broadband landscape that need to be carefully considered, and which could have a fundamental impact on your bid.
Up until the last week or so much of the discussion surrounding many local authority bids has focussed on public service networks (PSNs), regional backbones and digital village pumps. This was always only half of the story – a very important half but never enough to make a successful bid to BDUK.
The really hard bit is the access strategy – how do you get from the village pump to homes and businesses?
Strategies which simply delegate this responsibility to a locally unaccountable multinational is at best a fairly risky option, especially when we are in a new world of localism and the big society.
Wishing to hand over responsibility for the access strategy is understandable – its complex and costly, a long way outside most people’s core competence. These are the holy trinity of criteria traditionally used for outsourcing. And certainly these are very good reasons why most if not all local authorities should not be attempting the access network themselves but the traditional options aren’t necessarily the only ones on offer.
There isn’t a business case for a top down deployment of next generation broadband for good reasons – and its not just about cash. Its certainly true that its very expensive to put fibre in the ground, regardless of how deep into the access network it reaches, but that isn’t the only, or even perhaps the biggest, reason a top down approach doesn’t work.
The demography and landscape of the UK varies tremendously; the desires, aspirations and capabilities of the UK’s communities vary tremendously. These factors naturally suggest more than one technical solution and more than one investment profile. A traditional top-down telecoms model only works where a common solution can be applied to the widest possible population. So delegating the access strategy to company offering a traditional approach is likely to result in a lowest common factor solution rather than an optimal solution which unlocks the more ambitious in your economy.
Three good reasons are emerging which mean there are now alternatives and mean you should delay bidding to BDUK.
The most obvious perhaps has been Fujitsu’s announcement that it intends to build a fibre to the home (not cabinet) solution to 5m homes and businesses in rural areas. Their press release suggested this was not just a traditional top-down steam-roller deployment:
“The collaboration will actively support the involvement of local community broadband groups, enabling dynamic and flexible solutions in rural communities for the first time”
At the moment it isn’t clear what that involvement will mean but the approach so far has been much more inclusive than other major announcements by the industry – something anyone developing a BDUK bid needs to at least contemplate.
Secondly, the Big Society Broadband partnership’s knowledge-base, offering advice on how to approach rural broadband, will soon be published. Work put together by a wide array of experts including INCA, the Plunkett Foundation and ACRE. Plunkett’s experience of sustainable rural enterprise is being joined by ACRE’s network of rural community councils and the collective knowledge of INCA members’ of delivering next generation networks.
And finally, but certainly not least, city institution Jendens, have been beavering away behind the scenes for some months looking at scalable models which the City can be comfortable investing in while delivering that rich tapestry of local solutions.
While they may not be a name your have heard of, their knowledge of franchise structures, large-scale investment, and the telecoms industry makes their announcement very significant, bringing a fresh and exciting new approach to solving the final third problem. Their approach cracks the knotty problem of how marry top-down and community-up approaches into a nationally deliverable, sustainable, and flexible model.
Jenden’s have released a document which describes their approach of enabling local authorities to create a menu of options for their county, allowing each community to enjoy a broadband solution that closely reflects their needs, capabilities and aspirations; the franchise structure can then attract local and national investment, and match the right organisation to build and operate the network in partnership with the local authority and community. The commonality of the franchise model makes it scalable and attractive to external investors and the service provider market while the flexibility of local franchise companies ensures solutions support local conditions.
The franchise model and the Big Society Broadband partnership’s approach have a lot in common, and together offer a new perspective on delivering a county-wide access strategy. This and Fujitsu’s announcement mean that if you have any doubts about your bid to BDUK then delay.
Jenden’s are co-hosting an event with INCA and the Big Society Broadband partnership on the 9th May in London
If you’re directly involved in developing your BDUK bid, click here to reserve your place.
The broadband landscape just got a lot more exciting!