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New funding models are needed for rural broadband rollout, says community ISP

Monday, September 1st 2014 by Hannah Langston

Delivering broadband to the final 5% of the UK will rely on alternative funding methods as well as technologies, according to the head of a community-supported broadband provider.

Daniel Heery, project manager at Cybermoor told Cable.co.uk, “We’ve experimented with different technologies and found that there is enough technology to solve broadband issues but the big problem is getting the financing to deliver these solutions”.

Cybermoor in Alston, Cumbria is one of eight companies selected by the government to trial innovative ways of getting broadband to the final 5% of the country. It is the only one that will be testing a financial model – social investment, in addition to installing a fibre-to-the premises broadband network.

“Social investment is a growing market and the government is keen to promote it,” Mr Heery told us.

“There are some great social benefits of connecting farms and villages to broadband that aren’t taken into account by standard investors. For example, telehealth for the elderly and online training for young people. On Alston Moor if it snows then schoolwork is emailed to students at home, in those situations you need a good broadband connection”.

Social investment provides capital for organisations to provide social and financial benefits. The investment is repayable, often with interest, and can be used to develop new or existing activities that generate income.

However, getting people or businesses to invest in the social benefits of broadband is not without its challenges. “If a service is under threat like the village pub or shop then people can actually see the benefit of investing. With broadband it’s more complex,” Mr Heery told us.

“There’s a wide range of suppliers and the technology can be baffling to lay people. With broadband it’s not about the threat of losing a service but wanting a better one,” he added.

Since being awarded funding from the government’s £10 million innovation fund in June, Cybermoor has conducted feasibility studies in several Northumberland communities, selected for the willingness of their residents to engage in and develop new projects and ideas. The company will install a fully fibre network in one of the areas following a discussion with government and suppliers.

A spokesperson for the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) told us, “The social investment model Cybermoor is piloting has the potential to reduce the amount of taxpayer funded investment needed to roll-out superfast broadband in the hardest to reach areas of the UK.

“We are assessing the findings in Cybermoor’s feasibility report and hope that they can prove the model works and that it is scalable”.

All eight innovation fund recipients have until the end of today to submit results of their feasibility studies to DCMS.

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