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Welcome to GigaPlus Argyll

GigaPlus Argyll is registered as a non-profit community benefit society that aims to provide a 50Mb/s fixed wireless access broadband network to properties in our coverage area within the Argyll islands and Craignish.

Current situation

In May 2017 the contractor constructing the GigaPlus Argyll (GPA) wireless broadband network went into administration and all work on the network ceased. Since then the GPA board has been working to find a solution to the hiatus that followed.

It has not been easy. The project was funded by Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) under EU 'State Aid' rules, which govern the way that public money can be used for such projects and are decidedly inflexible. It appears that the only option under those rules would be to start a new funding application, followed by another EU-compliant tendering round, which would make it unlikely that there would be any broadband connections for another two years. In early September CBS also admitted that there could be no certainty of the availability of funds for a new round, and that there was also a possbility that no firms would wish to tender in the light of the ABI debacle.

The public funding route also carries with it the same fundamental problem we experienced with the previous contract; that GPA is required to undertake a long-term 'governing body' responsibility but with no means of earning an income with which to service that responsibility. The board does not consider that these impositions are acceptable. At the time of writing we have set up meetings with politicians in the hope of finding a way to short-cut and simplify the process, but it is difficult to be optimistic about the outcome.

Options

There are two other options. One is to wind up GigaPlus Argyll and await developments under the Scottish Government's 'R-100' scheme, which aims to bring superfast broadband to all properties in Scotland by 2021. Whilst that scheme is superficially attractive, its implementation is a long way off, and subject to slippage. Despite its intentions, it might still not cover properties in remote areas which are difficult to reach (a description that covers many in the GPA area). Furthermore, because it is based on 'Fibre to the Cabinet' (FTTC) and still relies on existing copper wiring from the cabinet to the property it will not bring superfast speeds to properties more than about 1km from the cabinet or exchange. ('Cabinets' are BT's name for the green connection boxes in the street.)

The other option is to go for a privately funded scheme. When first conceived the GPA project (then known as GigaMull) was intended to be a community built and managed scheme that would grow organically from a base at Craignure/Torosay on Mull, employing and training local people. When CBS came on board as the funding source all such aspirations were denied under 'State Aid' rules. At the time the board reluctantly accepted this compromise to achieve a quicker result, covering a wider area. In the event this has failed, through no fault of GPA, but it may now be possible to revert to the original aims of a true community project if funding can be found.

Potential

GPA has been left as the nominal owner of a small number of masts and some equipment. We also have planning permission and landowner leases for several more. Provided that there's no impediment* to using these (publicly funded) masts for community use, it would be possible to connect a substantial number of subscribers (initially in south-east Mull and a few on Lismore) relatively quickly. These connections would create an income stream which could then be used to unlock further funding and take the process further.

The board have contacted other community broadband schemes in the Highlands who are also following the gradualist approach. One of the funding mechanisms used is to ask potential subscribers to pay in advance for installation and a year's subscription. In return the subscriber gets fourteen months instead of twelve in the first year (16% discount). There are alternatives, but this approach avoids the complexities of share issues etc.

*At the time of writing Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK, part of the Department of Culture Media nad Sport) have confirmed that the existing infrastructure could NOT be used for a community project because it has been funded under 'State Aid'. The alternative is that the masts would have to be dismantled (at further tax-payer expense) so we are hoping that the politicians and their officials can see their way to a more sensible solution.

Next Actions

The board are examining this and other options with a view to developing a business plan. We are looking to see what support there might be in the GPA area communities for proceeding along these lines. If a privately funded route and genuine community involvement is to be pursued we will have a need for more enthusiastic and energetic people to join our team to make things happen.

In due course, as we develop proposals for a new route to providing access to high quality broadband services for as many in our area as possible, we shall need to consult in more detail with all our constituent communities to ascertain their enthusiasm for continuing to be represented in our project. In the meantime we would much appreciate your comments on our plans. Please click this link to complete our short questionnaire.