Hants Superfast Programme Opens New State Aid Public Consultation

Hampshire County Council, under the Hampshire Superfast Broadband Programme, have opened a new public consultation on how to use £1,772,000 which BT is returning to them under the gainshare clause of the Phase 1 BDUK contract.  Nationwide BT has committed to return £129M under the gainshare clause so far.

State aid funding for Phase 1 in Hampshire was just over £11M, £5M of which came from the County, Borough and District Councils, £5M from BDUK, and presumably includes the £1M from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, so this represents around a 16% return.  BT invested £3.8M themselves in this initial phase.

The good news on Phase 1 is that it initially targeted 59,500 properties but over 80,000 properties have now been covered.

State aid funding for Phase 2 is £18M, again with £3.8M from BT, and when announced was looking to reach 34,500 homes.  It can quite easily be seen how the costs spiral upwards as properties get harder and harder to reach; £631 per property on average for Phase 2, vs somewhere between £185 to £232 for Phase 1.  At Everest Park we estimate it cost BT around only £75 per property to commercially enable our cabinet.

Our view is that the gainshare return should be used to go back to the beginning and re-analyse the county as it stands today;  and target the new cheap-to-reach, higher property count areas which up to now have been excluded – mainly new-build sites completed since 2010.  As these are likely to generate higher levels of BT funding leaving less ‘gap’, this would reach another large number of people at very good value to the public purse.

There is a concern Hampshire County Council are trying to ignore these areas, as they currently seem to be excluded from the “final 5%” figures and therefore if now included would make their coverage calculation worse then previously declared.

Taking Skippets Gardens which we recently reported on as an example, and assuming the best estimate of £30,000 to buy and install a VDSL2 cabinet, its 162 properties would cost approx £185 each to enable, which certainly seems to be near the average actual cost spent per property under Phase 1.

Looking at the postcodes included as the proposed intervention area, for Basingstoke they map as follows:

Proposed Intervention Areas
Proposed Intervention Areas

…. which mainly includes business parks and an area in the town centre, as well as parts of Chineham, Taylor’s Farm, and Old Basing, as well as a lot more rural areas.  What it notably excludes is Skippetts Gardens.

Purpose

The stated purpose of the new public consultation is to confirm the areas which do not have Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband infrastructure delivering at least 30Mbps, or where there are no plans to provide such infrastructure over the next three years. These are described as “white NGA areas”. This is to enable all interested stakeholders – the public, businesses and telecommunications providers – to comment on the proposed white NGA areas before further coverage is committed.

Hampshire County Council will then submit its final proposals for the NGA white area, taking account of the outcome of the public consultation, to BDUK’s National Competence Centre for clearance.

However reading further down the consultation they are mainly calling on broadband providers to provide information on areas they are due to enable, but with a focus on ensuring these areas in the white list.  Crucially and worryingly, apart from as a result of public comment, there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism to identify missing white areas.

It’s therefore highly recommended to any residents living in an postcode which doesn’t have superfast broadband, and doesn’t appear to be getting it when you check the BT Wholesale DSL Checker, and whose postcode isn’t currently in the white list, to respond formally to the consultation, and ensure their neighbours and county councillors do too.

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