Ultrafast Fibre Broadband
The Story so far...
As you may know the Government launched the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme for both businesses and home owners to help provide fast Broadband in rural areas.
These vouchers are being provided by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to Community Fibre Partnerships and are offering £1,500 per residential property and if you run a business from your property as either an SME or sole trader with a Unique Tax Reference (UTR), you may qualify for a £3,500 voucher. Click here to check if your postcode is included in our scheme.
Goudhurst already has one Community Fibre Partnership which has been fully funded and the aim is to have enough vouchers pledged to balance out the cost of the fibre install meaning a zero cost for installing fibre to the premises (FTTP) with download speeds up to a massive 900 Mbps.
Once approved, users need to take a 12 month contract with a minimum data download of 30Mbs, with one of the Internet Service Providers associated with Openreach i.e. BT, Zen, Sky and one or two other smaller ISPs such as Cerberus and Spectrum.
Download Openreach FAQ here
The Results so far
On the 2nd March 2021 we signed a contract with our Community Interest Company with Openreach for £182,000 which will provide Ultrafast fibre broadband to the residents of Kilndown and The Slade and this is now moving into delivery, and should be completed within 12 months. This also includes Kilndown Village Hall, Quarry Centre and Christ Church.
The Goudhurst demand led project has been proving more difficult as it had to be split into two projects by Openreach so that it could be approved by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. So far the community has managed to pledge over £1.1m of vouchers, but as yet have not hit the overall £1.3m target that Openreach had set.
In January 2021 we managed to get agreement that some of the Goudhurst postcodes, would receive top-up funding which would have taken both projects over the line. However, because the DCMS approval process was so slow, the funding ran out.
Project A hit the 100% in February 2021, but project B had only achieved 60%, so it seemed crazy that A should have to wait on B and after much negotiating with Openreach they finally agreed on the 19th Feb that project A was able to proceed on its own.
This means the gigabit vouchers should have been emailed out to all residents in project A by the last week of February, but at the time of writing this still has not happened due to further delays at the DCMS in approving Openreach to email them our to our residents.
I have recently heard from Openreach, that senior management are now chasing this up, but as yet there is no actual date for the vouchers to be sent out so I am having to continue to chase this up on a daily basis.
March 2021 has seen more delays coming from the DCMS and Openreach have told me they have never seen anything like this before. So despite what is written in the press, this is the reality of the governments rural community fibre partnership scheme for Goudhurst.
At the last minute before the vouchers were due to be emailed out, they queried some of the addresses in the A project, (although we were given the list by them in the first place!) which meant that the vouchers were further delayed, as Openreach can only do this when they receive the green light from the DCMS.
As this further delay looked like it was going to be impossible to have the vouchers returned and "issued" by 31 March, I eventually managed to obtain an agreement from Openreach of a 28 day validation period, starting from when the vouchers were finally sent out.
Week commencing 22 March 2021, I received confirmation that at the meeting with the DCMS and Openreach, DCMS confirmed they required no further info from Openreach and they were passing Goudhurst project A through to final review.
26 March 2021 - Openreach have confirmed they have received the green light from the DCMS this today and the gigabit vouchers for project A have started to be emailed out this morning. As soon as they have the necessary number returned, project A will finally move into the delivery stage and be completed in approximately 12 months time.
That now leaves Project B, the one that I am in which is currently on 65% of target and we are in discussions with Openreach as to the best way to move this last scheme forward. It is complex spread of properties and covers a larger area and many addresses have not been eligable for a voucher and some strangely already have FFTP installed, and others were water treatment plants! Openreach are currently reviewing it to have these addresses removed which should help increase its percentage value and considering the best way to get this last one over the line one way or another! It remains fully funded with the new DCMS scheme for rural gigabit vouches from the 1st April, so all is not lost.
End May 2021 - I requested another update from Openreach at the end of May and this is the content of the email I received -
"After a fresh look at the voucher pledge site for project A, we’ve now got over £430k of valid voucher pledges, including the £325k of issued vouchers we already have confirmed with members of the community. The project A community pledge portal https://www.openreach.com/connectmycommunity has been updated to reflect this and we are working with BDUK (DCMS) to release additional vouchers from the valid pledges and will continue to collaborate with the community to convert those into issued vouchers.
In recognition of the confusion caused from our pledge site, and to assist the project, Openreach has adjusted the project A build cost down to £415k. We will move the project into delivery once we’ve got the £415k funding from the pledges secured in issued vouchers.
We hope that working together and by reducing the original pledge target by around £150k we can demonstrate that we are committed to working with the community to make this a success and whilst there is still some way to go for the community to secure the voucher funding, this makes the project significantly more achievable. I suggest we review where we are at the end of June." - Rural Engagement Manager, Strategic Infrastructure Development, Openreach
So the good news is that the build target figure has been lowered and we have enough "valid voucher pledges" to cover the build for project A. We just need the "pledges" converted to "issued" by having the GB email returned by everyone in the community who have pledged.
Also, following on from this statement, Openreach emailed again the GB voucher last week to Project A residents who have yet to return it and this has resulted in the total vouchers issued now increasing to £336,000.
More good news maybe that some Trooli customers last week received an email saying that their fibre build cannot now be completed "due to engineering challenges". Anyone in this position should be able to pledge their voucher to the Openreach scheme and should use the "Get in Touch" link to send me their details including full postal address so we can arrange to have a GB voucher emailed ASAP.
This has been an enormously frustrating project for me and the whole community especially when the Government is supposed to be committed to bringing Ultrafast fibre broadband to our rural communities and it has caused great division within our community with the spliting of the projects into two.
It also is a disappointed that since being elected to the Parish Council in May 2019, it has proved harder than I first thought to fulfil my election commitment to bring Ultrafast Fibre Broadband to all of the residents of Goudhurst with the governments rural community fibre project scheme.
Despite many hours our residents and myself have all invested in this project we have only so far managed to be partially successful, but will keep pushing on.....
To be continued....
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