The Community Fibre Partnerships scheme from Openreach (BT), which offers to help co-fund the cost of upgrading digitally isolated communities to receive their FTTC, G.fast or FTTP based superfast broadband ISP network, has now signed-up its 930th community and expects to deliver for 100,000 UK premises.
The CFP scheme is typically focused on smaller or more remote rural communities that don’t currently have access to an existing “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) network and which may not benefit from one in the near future. Essentially Openreach offers to cover some of the cost of the new infrastructure and then the community self-funds the remaining gap.
Crucially it’s often possible for communities to then harness a number of different Government supported voucher schemes (same local authorities and devolved regions also have their own schemes), which in some cases can be enough to help cover nearly all of the funding that a community might have otherwise had to raise itself in order to get the new network installed.
For example, the Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) scheme offers vouchers (£3,500 for small businesses and up to £1,500 for residents) to help homes and businesses in rural areas gain access to Gigabit capable broadband connections (ideally “full fibre” FTTP services). The Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme (BBSS) also exists to help homes where only sub-2Mbps speeds are currently possible (here).
Apparently the 930th community to sign-up was the historic village of Lillingstone Lovell in Buckinghamshire, which has made use of both the RGC vouchers above (the first to do so) and a £30,000 Grant from BT Group. Overall Openreach says their CFP scheme is currently offering live services to 590 of the 930 communities that have joined.
NOTE: BT originally also offered bonus grant of up to £30K to communities with a school or charity that could also benefit, but this has now ended (12,000 premises benefited).
Kim Mears, Openreach MD of Strategic Infrastructure, said:
“Lillingstone Lovell is a fantastic example of how our UK-wide Community Fibre Partnership programme is bringing fast, reliable broadband to some of the UK’s most challenging areas, where other providers struggle to reach.
We’ve been clear that we’ll never say no to any community that wants better, fibre broadband connectivity – and we’ll work with them to find a way forward even if the costs don’t stack up for a commercial or government-backed upgrade. We hope that the success of this programme will encourage even more communities to work with us.”
Margot James, UK Minister for Digital, said:
“We are working with industry to prioritise rural areas first as we build a nationwide full fibre broadband network and a Britain that is fit for the future. Community partnerships and the Government’s broadband connection vouchers are playing an important role in delivering this and I congratulate Openreach on reaching this milestone.”
A recent report from Regeneris Consulting (here) estimated that the CFP scheme generated, on average, around £800,000 of benefits to each community and increases the value of an average property by around £1,700. However we always recommend taking such estimates with a pinch of salt as it’s notoriously difficult to accurately gauge the economic impact of faster broadband speeds.
Admittedly we’ve also heard some grumbles about CFP deployments. Some have complained about lengthy delays in getting connected (usually due to engineering complications), while others were unhappy with the placement of equipment or level of communication received. On top of that a few communities which expected to get “gigabit capable” FTTP lines were surprised to find they could only receive up to 330Mbps (here).
Nevertheless it’s clear that Openreach’s scheme has still helped a lot of premises to gain access to faster broadband and the new voucher scheme should help to give those efforts another boost. This is particularly important given that the final 2% of premises seem otherwise likely to be limited to a 10Mbps+ USO (here), at least until full fibre arrives.. in another decade or so.