Q&A Questions Scope

The majority of the questions and answers set out below assume we undertake a joint procurement with Community Broadband Scotland (CBS) to build a local broadband network that will be community-owned. There are other options, and we are reviewing them, but the CBS solution seems the most likely solution at the moment (January 2017).

If you’re already registered with us, we’ll let you know of any changes – if not, you can register on our website to stay informed of the latest news.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most Commonly Asked Questions (6)

We expect to start the tendering process in Spring 2017, and contract(s) to be awarded about 6 months later. Building the network will start in early 2018, and we hope the first subscribers will be connected by Autumn that year. We expect the system to be complete by early 2019. These dates are “best guesses” at the moment and can’t be confirmed until we have spoken with telecom suppliers during the tendering process

As the project is publicly funded, we are not allowed to undercut competitor’s prices. At this stage, we expect prices to start at around £30 per month. This would cover fast broadband and telephone (if you decide you don’t need your BT landline). There will also be a connection/joining fee, expected to be in the range £100 – £150. This will be negotiated and agreed with suppliers as part of the procurement process

The project covers the majority of rural communities in the Borders, west of the A68 (and a few more over the border in neighbouring Dumfries and Galloway) where the market does not plan to provide superfast broadband services. Try our Post Code checker to see if you're within the scope of Borders Broadband.

We will seek proposals to design, plan, build and operate the system from experienced telecom suppliers. We can choose to own the network ourselves as a community asset and after the first 7 years run it ourselves as a community-owned business (although this may be quite onerous). Alternatively, the telecom supplier could own the network and provide the service commercially, so we can step back from any operational responsibility.

Working with CBS, we’ll develop a contract focused on the service and quality to be provided, not so much the means of doing so – we think this is best approach. As this will be a public tendering process, we have to be “technology neutral” anyway. We’ll be using a tendering process called “Competitive procedure with negotiation” that will allow us to speak to telcom suppliers as they develop their ideas, and collaborate with them to develop proposals that give them maximum flexibility to offer their best solution, while still meeting our requirements.

As a consequence we won’t know what technology will be used to provide the service until bids are received, negotiations are complete and we have selected the successful tender(s) towards the end of 2017. As this is a community project we hope that locals will support this initiative not just by subscribing to the services (if they want to) but also by helping facilitate delivering services – particularly to those harder to reach properties in the area. This might be through help-in-kind, free wayleave agreements for access and cabling, and contributing land for repeater stations for wireless mast sites etc.

Until we have spoken to suppliers, we cannot confirm if there will be a data cap or what it may be. (A data cap is a limit on how much data can be sent/received by a subscriber, usually measured every month) Our preference is for unlimited data, subject to a fair use policy and a (high) limit. With this approach we can intervene if any user is unfairly hogging the system, and do something about it. For most users, we want the service to feel “unlimited” in normal use.

We anticipate our service will be able to handle the Sky and BT Sport streaming channels. However, if subscriptions require you to have a dedicated internet package with the provider theses services may not be available – for example SkyQ.

Definition / Scope (7)

Our objective is to bring superfast broadband to services to all those communities in the project area that are not expected to be served by commercial market players (like BT) in the next 3 years - if at all.

Many communities in the project area were concerned about the lack of broadband access and some of them started local projects some years ago to see what they could do about it. CBS encouraged these groups to join up, to share the cost and effort of developing a viable project. The grouping now spans over 25 community Council areas, and is one of the biggest projects of its type in Scotland. The project takes part of it’s name from one of the earliest pioneers – Ettrick. There is a steering group, made up of community representatives (open to everyone) that decides the overall direction for the project. We have set up a formal Board to manage the process of tendering for services, and plan to appoint a Project Manager and technical advisors shortly, to co-ordinate the work with CBS. Otherwise all of the work is being done by volunteers. We expect to set up a community company or charity in 2017 that – if we decide we want it - will ultimately own and operate the network on your behalf.

See our Who's Who to see the volunteers leading the project.

It’s estimated that there are 2,500 dwellings and businesses in the project area.

During 2016 CBS ran a formal Open Market Review, and a State Aid Public Consultation exercise to determine what plans providers like BT have in the area, and also to advertise CBS’s intention of funding a community network. The project area will be defined by the outcome of this work to include all those areas where (as far as we know) suppliers like BT and others do not plan to provide commercial services in the next 3 years – or, if they do, they do not object to a state-funded competitor like us operating alongside. BT does publish its high-level plans so we know what exchanges will be getting upgrades but do not know the exact details of which premises will be covered, or what level of service from BT they can expect. You can check planned coverage here: https://www.scotlandsuperfast.com/

Yes. We already know where all the properties are (based on the Sept 2016 National Gazetteer data), and we will check our lists with communities before finalising the tender.

Yes - if you are included in our project area we aim to deliver to 100% of premises. The most remote locations may not receive the full service in terms of link speed, but we may find this caveat can be removed, once we’ve had more detailed discussions with telecom suppliers.

I live in a very remote spot. Will it cost me more to sign up ?

No, we plan to offer a "universal" basic service to all.

 

 

 

At the time of writing (December 2016) we have three broad options :-

  • We could try and raise funds and build our own system. This might sound impossibly ambitious, but it’s already been done elsewhere in the UK – there’s a link to the B4RN project (Broadband for the Rural North) later in this document. B4RN have created the fastest rural broadband network anywhere in the world – and it’s nearly all been done by some very dedicated and talented volunteers.
  • We could wait and see if we can be included in the Scottish Governments “Reaching 100%” programme (R100). This aims to reach all the remaining properties in Scotland that aren’t going to be served by commercial broadband providers (like BT) or planned community broadband projects. It will be a very big programme with as many as 300,000 properties in the project scope, spread across the whole of rural Scotland. There’s a political commitment for the service to be ready by 2021. We don’t know yet what service would be on offer, or where we would be in the queue if we decided to “join up”.
  • We could develop our own community superfast broadband network, supported by a £1M funding package provided through Community Broadband Scotland (CBS). If we want, the network could become a community-owned asset. This option would give us a lot of control, but might also mean having to set up a community company to own the network, and oversee operation. (There’s a variation on this option where the system supplier would own the network)

 

There may be a fourth option which would involve working with mobile telephone operators, to see if we can piggy-back on their investments in improved coverage and new 4G services so that together we can create a shared solution. This is only speculative at the moment, and needs further investigation.

Which option is best ?

We don’t know yet.

All of these options have positive and negative aspects, and all of them have “unknowns” that can’t be resolved without more detailed work. None of them are risk-free. Choosing between them will be difficult. Until recently, the CBS option (the third one in the list above) looked like the only realistic way forward, and a lot of work has been done by the project team with CBS to develop that option. It’s more or less “ready to go” to formal procurement (writing the contract, and inviting bids) whenever we’re ready. However, we think we should explore the alternatives before making any commitment: would a B4RN-like option work here?, or would R100 be better?. This work is likely to take until March 2017.

Meantime, we have sought advice. Everyone’s consistent, saying we should stick with the CBS solution, unless something which is definitely feasible and much better comes along. So that’s what we plan to do.

Funding (6)

Not to our knowledge. The funding for CBS is approved so should not be affected.

Yes, if they want to. It will be an open tender.

We expect so. There was a suppliers open day held in August 2016, which generated a lot of interest. Our project is one of the biggest of its type in Scotland; telecom suppliers are very keen to talk to us. There were 13 tenders submitted for the GigaArgyll project, which bodes well.

The bulk of the capital funding (£1M+) to build the network and connect premises to the service is being provided by Community Broadband Scotland. Local communities are required to provide capital “match funding” of 11% - about £120k in our case – so the total capital investment will be of the order of £1.2M.

We expect the local share to be met from telecom supplier contributions, connection fees and subscriptions.  The arrangements will be negotiated and agreed with telecom suppliers during the procurement process. The local project group must also raise funds to cover the cost of managing and developing the project. This will cover the costs of participation in the tendering process and the system build phase, including setting up a Company that will eventually own and operate the system. We estimate this will cost another £100k, or thereabouts, most of which is for a Project Manager, professional support and advice, and detailed communications with communities.

Otherwise, as much work as possible will be done by volunteers. We are currently exploring all the possible funding sources for our share of the costs (£120k + £125K) and expect this can be achieved through a combination of connection fees, loans and grants. Once the system is running, all costs will be met from subscriber fees, and any other system income.

Take-up will not affect the level of capital funding we receive but for the project to go ahead we will need to demonstrate (in a business plan) that we’ll have enough planned income to sustain operation of the service. Obviously, the number of households and businesses deciding to join is the key factor in determining our income, so the numbers will have to “add up” commercially for the project to be viable.

For funding purposes, we need to demonstrate that at least 10% of potential subscribers are interested enough to sign-up. There will be no compulsion to sign up, just because you’re in the project area. Spot surveys already undertaken by some of the Community Councils, and experience from similar projects elsewhere in the UK suggest that initial uptake is likely to be 20-30% (say around 500 subscribers). This figure is likely to increase once the system is established and proven. Some systems have exceeded 50% .

Past Projects (1)

Yes. Many communities across the UK have set up successful systems. Examples include:

  • The fastest and most reliable service in the UK bar none is provided by a community organisation called B4RN in Lancashire. They deliver 1Gbps as standard, and with no public funding to date.
  • In Scotland, the Marykirk project (another project with no public funding) shows what can be achieved with low-cost wireless systems in rural areas, delivering fast reliable services.
  • Community Broadband Scotland supported the Argyll Gigaplus project  which is delivering services to the islands of Mull, Islay, Jura and Colonsay

 

You can look at these projects to see how they’ve tackled it by clicking on these links below:

 

It absolutely can be done!

Price / Cost (4)

We will most likely require a 12 month contract to start. This will be discussed with telecom suppliers during the procurement process

Yes. We aim to have comparable business packages and plan to create solutions to meet any specific business requirements.

The primary aim of the project is to provide superfast speeds.  We hope to develop a system that is “1Gbps capable”. Only when the design of the network has been considered will we know if, when and where this would be available, and at what cost. This will be discussed with telecom suppliers during the procurement process.

Not yet decided. This too will be negotiated and agreed with suppliers, but we expect to offer a range of speeds, priced in bands. Because the project is state-funded, there is a constraint requiring that prices are similar to comparable rates offered by other providers, so we don’t unfairly undercut them.

Technology (5)

Our aim is to provide minimum up/down speeds of at least 30Mbps (megabits per second) initially. This is the EU definition of “superfast broadband”. Speeds should not drop below 20Mbps at peak periods. We recognise that for really remote areas a superfast service may be difficult (or much more expensive) to provide, so we have set a target minimum speed of 10Mbps for harder-to-reach locations.

We will ask suppliers to provide options for those who want something faster, or who may not need 30Mbps. Speed options will probably priced in bands – just as commercial providers do. We also hope to make the network as “future proof” as we can, so the system can support up to 1Gbps (gigabits per second) in future, even if we can’t provide that immediately (1Gbps = approx 1,000 Mbps)

We will be discussing this issues in detail with telecom suppliers during tendering. We do not know yet how we would address any on-site repairs. We are unlikely to directly employ  permanent maintenance staff – but if the system is reliable, we shouldn’t need to anyway. We will most likely buy-in this service - but that may create a problem if the people are not locally based. Our thinking at the moment is to go for a mix of on-line support from the main supplier(s), a local stock of equipment to be able to swap-out faulty units quickly, and trained local telecom suppliers / individuals who are “on call” to attend and fix any breakdowns. Our objective will be to achieve minimum “outages”, and for repairs to be made in a few hours (not days).

We aim to specify a 3R’s system: robust (tough), reliable (doesn’t break down) and resilient (if it does break down, only a small part of it is affected and the rest keeps going).

Modern wireless technology and mast sites are very reliable if well-sited, and maintained properly.

We do not know until we have started detailed discussions with suppliers. State Aid regulations (which apply because of the CBS grant) stipulate that the project needs to be open to all technological solutions. That said, and given the challenging terrain and distances that characterise the service area, we expect a substantial part of the service to be provided over high capacity microwave (wireless) links similar to the Marykirk and Argyll projects.

Other Suppliers (3)

No. Through the Open Market review and Public Consultation process, we’ve made it clear what we plan to do and won’t go into any areas that are expected to receive commercial services. If telecom suppliers have said they have no plans for our area but change their mind, there will be no restrictions that will prevent them from coming into the area after all. Because our system will be under obligation to provide “open access”, other suppliers will be able to use it to provide their services using our network if they want to.

Yes, if other commercial suppliers chose to operate within the area. Our project will not prevent other telecom suppliers from providing new broadband services, and any existing services can continue. However, we’ll only cover those areas where commercial telecom providers have said they don’t plan to go with superfast services in the next 3 years (a condition of our public funding) so there may not be a choice. Telecom suppliers may change their mind of course – they are not restricted - but if the position doesn’t change then our system is likely to be the only superfast option, at least for the first few years. Your telecom supplier may decide to provide their service (or a better one) over our network, once it’s built. Because it will be publicly funded, our network will be “open access” for use by commercial suppliers - but we cannot predict what they’ll decide to do.

Yes, but you’ll need to continue paying for it. There will be absolutely no compulsion to sign up to our service, but you should be aware that your current service may not improve in the near future, if at all. Telecom suppliers have said they have no plans for improvements in the project area over the next 3 years, which is why our project has been set up. Your telecom supplier may decide to provide their service (or a better one) over our network, once it’s built. Because it’s publicly funded, our network will be “open access” for use by commercial suppliers - but we cannot predict what they’ll decide to do.

Comparison (2)

We plan to provide services that are at least as good as commercial suppliers, and to keep doing so – with BT being the obvious comparator.

Satellite is an excellent stop gap if there’s nothing better, but it tends to be an expensive solution especially if you need to send or receive a lot of data. Latency (the delay between sending a signal, and its arrival) is much higher with Satellite and can affect applications such as video conversations (eg SkyPE), VOIP telephone calls and on-line gaming, making these services frustrating and in some cases, almost unusable. Some people may consider getting a satellite solution as a stop-gap until Borders Broadband roll out our solution. We aim to start services from early 2018, and for roll-out to be completed later that year. Be aware that a satellite provider may contract you for a minimum period which could extend into a time period where you could get our solution. Satellite providers often include a Fibre-escape clause which may provide you with a way out when our solution is live. Check with your chosen satellite internet provider.

 

Phone Line (4)

The planned service will not require a BT line and you will be able to get a phone service over the link we provide if you want to, saving the cost of BT line rental. You will still be able to maintain a line with BT if you want to – but you will have to pay BT for it separately. The system will support a technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) which allows telephone calls to be made over a network link – if you’ve ever used SkyPE or Lync, then you’ve used VOIP.

If you want to keep a conventional handset, then you typically need three things:

  • A broadband connection.
  • VOIP base station and/or handset(s). If your phone is quite new, it may support VOIP already.
  • A contract with a VOIP service provider.

 

The VOIP service provider will issue you with a number (it can have a local dialling code for your area, just like your BT line) and will charge you for calls, and probably a monthly fee. Call packages are usually available.

VOIP (pronounced VOYP) stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol.

Traditionally, when you make a phone call, the telephone conversation goes down a pair of wires (your phone line) to the local exchange where it gets routed to the person on the other end of the call.

VOIP allows the phone conversation to take a different route, namely to go through the internet to get to the person at the other end. The person at the other end could be on VOIP themselves, or they could just be on a BT phone line, it doesn’t matter, the call will still be routed correctly. It just uses the internet as it’s route, instead of the phone line.

If you've used SkyPE before then you've used one form of VOIP. However, there is another form of VOIP that means you can use your existing phone just like you use it now. Instead of being plugged into the BT socket in your house, the phone is plugged into a special socket in your internet router.

You dial a call just as you normally would and it gets routed via the internet to the person you were calling. The person on the other end does not need to be on VOIP themselves, they could be on a BT line. It will still work.

What is the benefit of this ?  You can choose to tell BT that you no longer want your phone line and save money on the line rental. VOIP providers don’t charge line rental (there is no line being rented from them), they just charge for the calls you make and prices are on a par with BT.

Maybe. The pros and cons of a VOIP vs. a BT landline depend a lot on what you use your phone for, and how many calls you make. Ultimately the choice will have to be yours. Some things to consider:

  • If you make a lot of calls, a BT phone-only package may still be cheapest, even with line rental.
  • If you need to make a 999 call, a BT line (with an old fashioned handset) will keep going in a power cut – power to the phone comes over the line. VOIP will probably fail in a power cut.
  • Emergency services wouldn’t be able to trace your physical location from a VOIP call, although some providers allow you to register your VOIP number with an address for 999 calls, just in case.
  • Your caller id (the number seen by the recipient) might not match your local number. How this works will depend on your VOIP supplier, and how they configure things. This may be an issue for Businesses.
  • Some VOIP suppliers give you tools to help manage nuisance calls (fees may apply).

Miscellaneous (7)

Maybe – it will depend on your supplier. For example, if you have an email account with BT (such as a btinternet.co.uk or btconnect.com address ) then this is linked to your broadband contract with BT. If you switch to another provider (like the service we hope to provide) you could lose your current email account. 

That said, we understand that BT’s policy at the time of writing (Nov 2016) is to allow you to keep your email account open even if you switch to another provider – but this may change this in future. We don’t expect to provide an email service to go with our network as there are really good free ones out there, like gmail.com and outlook.com that can run on any network. You will probably have to switch to one of these if you decide to opt for superfast broadband on the new network, when it’s available. We recommend you have a think about changing to a “neutral” email provider in good time – in fact, you might want to start that now.

Car speed is measured in mph in the UK.

Internet speed is measured based on the amount of data that comes to/from you per second. Instead of MPH (for a car), it is bps (bits per second), or more commonly

  • Kbps (approx 1,000 bits per second) and 
  • Mbps (approx 1 million bits per second) and
  • Gbps (approx 1000 million bits per second).

 

To put this in real life context, if you were to listen to a radio station through your ipad or computer, this would need approximately 50Kbps, to watch an online video (eg youtube) or watch BBC iPlayer, it could be between 1Mbps to 10Mbps (depending on the quality, HD content needs more). The latest super hi-definition channels (eg from Netflix) can be a lot more. And, of course, if there are a few of you watching videos online at the same time then you need multiples of these figures, depending on how many of you are watching things online.

We aim to run the service ourselves as a community company eventually, but know we’ll need a lot of help to set it up, and to run it to begin with. At this stage, we really don’t know if there will be any long-term jobs created, if they’d be full or part-time, or what they might be.

We hope to create opportunities for locals and local businesses during project development and roll-out, as we set up the network and connect subscribers to the service.

Probably. There is an extensive high speed fibre network laid between major centres across the UK – usually along trunk roads and railways – and we will have to link into one or more of these for our system to connect to the outside world. BT’s network division (Openreach) owns and operates most of these links but other suppliers and organisations have laid their own fibre that may also be available to us. You may hear us referring to this as “backhaul” – the name industry has given it. The availability, location and capacity of potential backhaul connection points is difficult to determine. These networks are privately owned, and data about them is commercially sensitive and not published, so we don’t yet know where these connections are likely to be made. This will be one of the most important issues for the project, and will be a key responsibility for the successful supplier to resolve.

You will have to look at your contract with them, but as it will be a fast service we hope it would.

No. There’s no obligation for anyone to sign up.

No, at least not at the start.  This will be discussed with telecom suppliers during the procurement process, too.