Thursday, October 5, 2017

1, 600 Premises on the Isle of Mull to Remain Cut-off from Superfast Broadband


The fallout from AB Internet's collapse in May 2017 continues to bite. A recent meeting revealed that 1,600 premises on the Isle of Mull (Scotland) will remain disconnected from superfast broadband because the 8 wireless mast that were built cannot be reused by the community due to state aid rules.

The contract with AB Internet, which focused on several Inner Hebrides communities, formed part of the GigaPlus Argyll (GPA) project. Apparently around eight of the required masts had been built before the ISP went into administration (here and here) and that was at a cost of around £1 million in public investment via Community Broadband Scotland (CBS).

At this point the network was only just starting to go live and 2 homes had already been connected, with residents being told to expect download speeds of up to 50Mbps (Megabits per second). Sadly AB Internet's failure to run a stable business meant that the contract was cancelled, which left the community scheme stuck in limbo.

Technically speaking the infrastructure that has been built still belongs to GPA but the project's Director, Tim Dawson, has been told that they're "not allowed to use the existing masts" for any future community scheme because they were built under state aid regulations. Dawson fears this would make it "impractical" to setup a new community scheme.

Tim Dawson, GPA Director, said (Oban Times):

"Since May, GPA has been struggling to find a way forward. The official attitude of Government agencies could be summarised as: 'Tough, go to the back of the queue.' "

A number of "common sense" solutions were allegedly proposed at a meeting with CBS and the Highlands Executive on Wednesday, although apparently all of them would be prohibited by the rules. Adding insult to injury, the existing masts may now have to be removed, at further public expense. Talk about a huge waste of money and lack of common sense.

The Scottish Government's R100 programme has at least pledged to deliver universal coverage of 30Mbps+ superfast broadband by 2021, although so far we've not seen any solid details concerning how that could be achieved. Certainly removing useful infrastructure that already exists doesn't seem like a very sensible approach.

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