Connecting the community to the network
Stop Press: Gov. voucher grant money has been available since Oct. 2018 and will be available again in the near future, right now it is not available. New installations and connections can still be made but on an ‘at cost’ basis. Best discussed with a director ASAP.
Rural broadband is not economically viable at market acceptable subscription rates hence the big telecoms have focussed their broadband efforts in urban areas. Fortunately for us, at about the same time as our inception, the delivery of broadband across the United Kingdom became a public objective. Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council provided HCB with seed capital in 2017 before we presented a community/business case to the residents of north Hampshire. In early 2018 the company raised sufficient capital pledges to work with Fibre Options Ltd to design and build a fibre network, physical work started mid year. By the time HCB started to connect customers, HCB’s network business plan was approved under the Gov’s recently launched Rural Gigabit Connectivity Scheme with Fibre Options, our partner, as the registered Network Builder. The funding Scheme was designed to provide match-financing via vouchers to connect rural SMEs and adjoining residences.
The Scheme required pre registered Network Builders to seek approval for rural broadband rollout business plans. Once approved, would-be broadband customers applied for vouchers to secure individual broadband connections to businesses or residences, which if deemed eligible would result in a Gov pledge to pay the voucher monies to the Network Builder once the customer received the service. Vouchers payable on residential connections were inclusive of VAT, but not on business connections, if the business was registered for VAT the VAT payable could be reclaimed, if not it would be the customer's cost of installation.
Between 2018 and 2021 the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, as administered through the department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, underwent various reincarnations to provide voucher grant monies to registered Network Builders. Whilst the individual voucher payments changed over time the cap or maximum voucher monies allocated to the Network Builder’s approved business plan didn’t change. In HCB’s case we used virtually all the funding allocated to us by the expiry date of the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme on 31st March 2021 by which time Hampshire County Council was providing top-up funding to the DCMS vouchers conditional on HCB waiving it's usual customer installation charge. HCB has 12 months from the issue of the DCMS vouchers to connect the said customers, after which the Gov.’s pledge to pay the voucher monies expires.
HCB’s current pipeline of new orders were predominantly secured under the Rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, therefore so long as HCB connects the customers within 12 months the pledged voucher monies will be honoured; £3,500 excl VAT for businesses and £1,850 incl. VAT for residences (including a £350 ’top-up' payable be HCC).
Any new orders received post 1st April 2021 can be installed and connected subject to the customer settling the installation charge for the job in question, on a ‘at cost’ basis. Obviously green field installations will be more expensive than ‘infill’ installations along the existing fibre network. A director can give a price indication quickly, so long he knows the circumstances of the subject job.
On 8th April 2021, central Gov. launched 'Project Gigabit' its latest broadband funding regime, also to be administered by DCMS. The new regime looks very similar to the previous one, subject to a few tweaks on detail and a further £120m of funding. However, experience suggests that we will only really understand the extent of the changes once committed to the next project.
HCB is now a registered Network Builder in our own right (no longer under the umbrella of Fibre Options Ltd). We are working with adjoining communities and landowners to apply for voucher funding to expand the existing network and likewise with a couple of Hampshire rural communities to build stand-alone or ‘remote networks’ (i.e. with their own fibre feeds). Securing approval for new business plans under Project Gigabit will take a while as we and DCMS work within the new requirements and DCMS copes with a flood of funding applications at the start of a new funding regime.
Rural Hampshire communities interested to partner with HCB
We have a set of Guidance Notes to explain what is involved and how individuals in the community can apply for UK Gigabit vouchers helping themselves but also the community at large. The more businesses and homes to secure vouchers the easier it is to design, deliver and fund the new network. The Guidance Notes are available upon request via a HCB director.