First Project Board Meeting - 2nd December 2016

Meeting  No 1 - 2nd December 16 - 2pm at Midlem

Present: P. Tabor (PT), Callum Hay (CJH) (acting chair), Clare Hay (CEMH)(note), O. Jackson (OJ), V. Davidson (VD), G.Harrison (GH), D. Pollard (DP).

Apologies Chantal Geyer (Community Broadband Scotland)

Introductions.

CJH thanked all for coming and agreeing to be board members. He said that CEMH, GH, DP and  VD, represented the geographical spread of communities involved. OJ, GH and VD  also represented local business and development trusts. PT was there representing SUP, which was providing backing for the group in terms of facilities and some support. CBS would have a presence as the prospective funder, and though they could not be present today, had asked to be kept informed. It was also noted that work so far was being carried out by the project team consisting of CJH, CEMH, DP, PT aided by another two new volunteers. (Brian StPierre is helping DP with website development, and Peter Lawton has offerd to help with Technology and Legal issues)

Project recap.

CJH briefly outlined the project remit and roles. The relevant document was provided with the agenda, together with the project structure and governance, programme outline, budget outline and risk register developed from the key issues identified by the steering group meeting in September.  These documents had already proved their worth in applications for funding and conversations with interested parties.  It was noted that a constitution for the group was still needed. There were no questions on these documents (Action - CJH and project team - constitution).

Delivery Options

As has so often been the case in the history of the broadband group, several possible new options have appeared and need to be considered.

1. We can stay with CBS, and the £1.068M capital grant currently on offer, though even in this case, there are now two sub-options.

Option A: Continue as we are, which means continuing to fundraise for the 11% share of project capital required and the £125k of revenue for the project resources and advisors we would need to carry out a successful procurement. This latter part has already taken a large number of man hours, and will continue to do so. It also potentially leaves us with the load and risk of managing the procurement and service, but a major input into how any contract and specification is developed, and the long term operation and management of the network.

Option B:   A number of smaller projects have been struggling to find  people with the right expertise  to commit to the CBS procurement process and are also worried about the high level of risk to the community. Because of this CBS have indicated that it may be possible for CBS/Highland and Island Enterprise to form the necessary contracting organisation to deal with suppliers, to carry out the procurement and then to hand over the network to the successful suppliers for them to run. This does remove a large work load and a lot of  risk from the community.  We are assured we would still have plenty of influence in terms of the specification and evaluation of tenders. However we have not yet seen a written offer fully describing  this idea. It is undoubtedly attractive in many ways, but may simply shift the resource problem to CBS/HIE given the number of projects there are. We would have to be confident that we would have equal influence and that CBS/HIE would be able to put the same level  and type of resource into the procurement on our behalf, as we would in doing it independently. Compared to Option A we would probably have the same initial input and control, but as soon as the contract was let we would have no on-going influence – it would become a commercially owned and operated system.

2. We could simply sit back and let ourselves become part of R100 programme

R100 is the national project to reach the last 5% of properties not covered by the market – the R100 timescale is now overlapping with our project.

We had concerns that the R100 budget was inadequate for the 200,000 to 300,000 properties believed to be in the programme, but the Autumn statement announcement of extra funding for broadband  infrastructure may improve this.  The difficulty at present is that there is very little information available. The Scottish Government is at present carrying out a premises (rather than postcode) based OMR, to inform plans for R100, and there will come a point in the next few months when we will have to commit either to CBS or R100 if we are going for state funding. Once that decision is made it cannot be changed.

The advantage of the R100 option is that we probably need to do much less (maybe nothing at all) but by the same token will have little or no input to the type of solution developed for our area. The worst case could be a blunt “take-it-or-leave-it” solution, with no reference to local needs and falling short of what we hope could be achieved via CBS

It is noted that a letter from Fergus Ewing (Minister responsible) to another CBS group had been in circulation indicating that he was open to meeting groups active in broadband to perhaps take a pre-emptive approach.    (Action – project team to contact R100 team and other community broadband groups to find out as much as possible)

3. Privately funded option.

At the last Digital Forum, Calum Kerr had organised presentations by privately funded community groups.  (Details are in the accompanying note of the Forum.)  A number of local communities, including some from our project area, were very enthusiastic  about the B4RN approach. Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) works with communities to develop purely fibre networks. Communities must fundraise, by buying shares or investing in B4RN and generally do much of the work to actually install the network. 

B4RN according to their website has grown to 2300 connected properties in 6 years or so. They are a small company expanding in other areas before even thinking about ours and there have to be doubts about their capacity to support a project of our size, even if they wanted to, this is not generally the way they work. The idea of effectively future-proofing bandwidth, with a relatively low maintenance network is very attractive. However the B4RN model depends on a large number of volunteers, private investment and an incremental, community by community approach. It is undoubtedly going to be attractive to communities who are fed up of waiting and want to go it alone. CBS funding is not available for use with a B4RN project.

B4RN has become more interesting  recently in that to bring more resilience to their network, they are renting  fibre links from their home territory in North West England to Edinburgh, which passes close by the western edge of the project area. It also appears that this could be accessed via a B4RN cabinet at Elvanfoot on A74(M).

Calum Kerr has indicated that he would investigate the possibilities of backhaul coming down the A68. The fibre company that B4RN use also has fibre running through the eastern Borders.  This makes it seem tantalisingly possible, but even at B4RN’s low rates per metre, getting fibre to, never mind running fibre through all our valleys seems prohibitively expensive. We cannot rule it out quite yet, though. Calum Kerr’s office is running two workshops for interested communities in the near future, no  dates as yet.  OJ said Emtelle had been very interested in their earlier project and it would be worth contacting them about this one

(Action - Project team to contact Emtelle and attend and report back on B4RN seminars)

Autumn Statement implications. This was touched on earlier. We do not yet know how much of the extra infrastructure funding awarded to Scotland will be used for broadband or if any of it will come to the Borders.  (Action – project team to contact CBs and R100 and inquire)

4. Mobile 4G broadband.

This was not on the agenda but has very recently emerged as a possible contender. There may be a way to share existing mobile infrastructure, with it being upgraded to support better coverage and 4G services in the area. It was felt it would be worth contacting mobile suppliers in the area to see if it was worth exploring further.  The upload and download rates are very good but the cost of data may be the problem. (Action – Project team contact locally active mobile providers)

 

Project Updates

B4GAL meeting 8th November 2016

CJH and CEMH met with Amanda Burgauer to hear her views especially on the B4RN/CBS options. Amanda is very pro fibre as a future-proof option and is fortunately placed as there is a B4RN cabinet in her village. However she also sees advantages in the CBS approach, but so far we have not heard which will be the preferred option for B4GAL.  

 

Scottish Borders Digital Forum

CEMH attended on behalf of the project board and team. A separate note of this meeting is attached. As a result of this session it was decided to recommentd to the Board that B4RN be evaluated further to understand its possibilities locally. Seminars are being organised by Calum Kerr’s office and thiese will be attended.

Meeting with CBS 15th November in Edinburgh

Present were Natalie, Chantal, Charlotte of CBS and Jan Miszalowski of Atkins Farrpoint, CJH, CEMH

Key points (A note of the meeting prepared by CBS is attached for further information)

CJH and CEMH asked CBS if start of procurement could be deferred until March 2017, as so many options now needed to be appraised, and the timing of funding bids meant that resources would not be available until then. CBS were happy to agree to this as there is a six month window available  from the end of the SAPC  to start procurement.

It was agreed that in the absence of a reference model, CBS would try to find funding to allow Atkins Farrpoint to prepare one. This means that Jan would undertake some desktop modelling and come down to the project area and do a reality check as to whether the sum proposed is realistic to deliver a suitable network which could perform and deliver as required.

CBS confirmed that If not, it might be possible to increase the funding.

Various other practical questions were discussed such as what kind of delivery body might be exempt from VAT,which would be very useful. It was noted that the project network would be open, i.e. could be used by any other supplier to deliver their services and thus it would have to be viable on a wholesale, as well as retail basis. CJH proposed the idea of including in the charges an amount to build an accumulating renewals fund to replace network components when this became necessary.

 

SAPC results and project scope

Following on the from SAPC, there were no changes to the project area , so there are still over 2000 premises in the intervention area. However this does not stop any supplier from providing services in the area, and indeed it was noted that BT was continuing to install fibre and cabinets in the project area.  This is a potential commercial risk to the project in that it may take out the easier premises to reach.  It was noted that this is also happening to the independent Heriot wireless network.

Meeting with Scottish Borders Council 2/12/16

CJH and CEMH has met Doug Scott to update him on the project and to appeal for SBC funding due to the project not being a good fit for Big Lottery or Landfill funding.

 

 

Proposed Future Direction

It was agreed that the key activities will be

  1. Review the delivery options above to identify the best possible option. This will not stop us proceeding as if we are taking the CBS route as there is so much preparation in terms of bidding for funding ,  acquiring resources and so on which if not done will close that option down, and we are still told by various sources it may be our best hope, but with the assorted caveats noted above.
  2. Prepare a constitution
  3. Complete the application for LEADER funding for £60k for local management costs (the outcome should be known in January). 
  4. Work to find matched funding to be continued
  5. The above will be underpinned by site visits and meetings with other projects, especially local ones to share knowledge and experience.
  6. The project will take part in the B4RN seminars
  7. Discussions with potential suppliers will be held
  8. Follow up with CBS re the reference model, and outstanding queries from the last meeting
  9. Hold a workshop/drop  in formation session or roadshow to engage with stakeholders

Communications Management.

We need to start preparation of a communications plan/strategy and programme, i.e. letting everyone know what we are doing in an organised way. This work is important to the project and we are aware that it is simply not being done as we do not currently have the resource to do it.

The meeting congratulated DP on the work done on the website.  It was agreed that the project title should be changed to Borders Broadband, with the strapline Ettrick and beyond. It was noted that both the domain name and company name are available.  DP agreed to organise the domain name.   Branding in terms of house style would have to await appropriate resource.

The new website was demonstrated, to approval all round. DP asked everyone to provide a snapshot and a few words about their background for the website. It would be possible to set up generic emails under the domain name to avoid people having to use their private emails. The website will allow people to enter a postcode to see if their property is in the project area. It will also allow them to register their interest to be kept informed. Other channels could be activated such as social media, but this again depends on resource to keep it updated.  It was noted that communities were becoming irritated by apparent lack of progress  and lack of information and it was agreed that a press release should be issued before Christmas highlighting the website, together with the documents already prepared for community councils and local councillors being released to them.

The work done on GIS to show full details of properties in the project area was demonstrated. CJH was thanked by the group for his work on this. It was noted that it would be of interest to the steering group too.

 

 

 

Housekeeping

The next board meeting would be after the announcement of Leader funding so after 24th January 2017 with the steering group workshop provisionally one week later. Venue to be agreed.

 

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