It seems to have come along very quickly but I’ve now been helping out in BDUK for a year, so it felt like a time for reflection – what has happened in the world of deeply rural broadband in the last year?
BDUK will speak for itself and this is not the place for making announcements on their behalf but from a personal observation the Rural Community Broadband Fund has become a major provider of support for community broadband schemes. The RCBF is now arguably the biggest investor in community-led broadband in this country at the moment with some exciting projects about to emerge from the fund.
The last year has also seen independent community projects like B4RN move from being an idea into a scheme with pipes in the ground – and receiving much publicity along the way.
More traditionally commercially minded organisations are also beginning to find ways to invest with companies like Gigaclear opening projects in Rutland and Oxfordshire.
The recent arrival of experienced European’s like Rala from Sweden can only accelerate this trend, and the American’s are here in the form of Calix. The UK would seem to be increasingly a place to test experience earned abroad.
On the back of this there are growing signs that investors are seeing rural broadband as an attractive place to invest. There have been any number of community share offers launched by social enterprises seeking to raise funds for broadband and there is the announcement of a new specialist investment fund targeting rural broadband from Broadway Partners.
Major carriers are also waking up to the potential of rural broadband with providers like Cable & Wireless tailoring support for smaller rural schemes, and Vodafone doing much to promote their Oxera report into network co-investment again backed by experience gained abroad. From left-field Network Rail have also expressed their intention to deliver backhaul along their branch-lines which has the potential to revolutionise rural broadband.
And it would be fair to say that BT is making increasing progress in tandem with communities, with fibre-on-demand likely to increase this in the coming year.
Is it all smiles and roses?
Of course not but when I look back to previous years where progress in the most rural areas has at times been all but non-existent it has been a remarkable year.
Much of the combative noise has broadly been replaced by a more co-operative hum of activity, and where the barking remains its largely out of frustration that it can’t happen quicker, not that it isn’t happening.
Delivering broadband in the rural most areas of the UK is still not for the feint hearted no matter what the business model or motivation but good, solid progress is being made. There may not be vast numbers of connections live yet but rest assured they are certainly on their way.
While there are still many challenges to face, it looks to be a vintage year in the offing.