The project was originally started early in 2012, as a consequence of the Parish Couuncil elections. When some of the candidates asked residents what they saw as major issues that affected life in the village, the subject of broadband was quickly identified as a major concern. A project team was formed, and the team started to look at options to improve the situation. An informal survey revealed that many residents were simply unable to receive a broadband service at all, and many others complained of low speeds and poor reliability.
The project team consists of Graham Shelton, Graeme Ogilvy, Peter Winder, Steve and Terri Allison, and Simon, Sue and James Harrison. All are unpaid volunteers working on the project in their spare time, with no financial involvement (other than hoping in the end to become paying customers!).
The team agreed on some key objectives: The scheme must include everyone in the Parish – Northmoor, Bablockhythe and Moreton. It must provide an affordable service at a roughly similar cost to a BT land-line plus ADSL broadband, in addition to higher speed premium services. It must be sustainable into the future, not just adequate for today’s needs.
Oxfordshire County Council in association with Broadband Delivery UK (funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) is subsidising the BT rollout of Fibre to the Cabinet in some rural areas of Oxfordshire, but when the coverage maps were eventually published by OCC it was clear that our community was a “white” area – meaning that there was no plan to do anything in our village. The BDUK scheme is also not based on the principle of 100% coverage within a community – a really important consideration when spending public money. Depending on the distances from upgraded BT street cabinets some people may be left out completely, just like the current situation at Bablockhythe with ADSL. It seemed that there was no alternative but to seek other options.
It was discovered that government funding was potentially available under the Rural Community Broadband Fund, an initiative set up by DEFRA, and in July 2012 the team submitted its formal “Expression of Interest” form – a 54-page document setting out the objectives of the scheme and a great deal of technical detail about the existing provision, potential financial models and business planning. The application was supported by a door-to-door survey of the community which achieved a 51% response rate. This showed that 14% of respondents could not connect to the internet at all using the existing telephone lines, rising to 46% at Bablockhythe. Of those who could get a service, 42% rated it as “poor”.
The EOI was accepted by the RCBF and the project moved to the next stage – the Full Application. This required the submission of 17 separate documents, covering all aspects of the proposal. At this stage the team was very fortunate in securing the support of West Oxfordshire District Council, who agreed to manage the legal and financial side of the project, and in particular to run the necessary competitve procurement process. Their support has been absolutely fantastic and the team could not have done this without their help. The Full Application was finalised in November 2013 and just before Christmas 2013 the team was informed that the bid had been successful. The funding from RCBF would be available – assuming that a suitable supplier could be found who would provide the balance of the investment on a commercial basis.
An invitation to tender was issued by WODC, and after consideration of bids from a number of suppliers, Gigaclear were selected as offering the best value based on the Most Economically Advantageous Tender criteria. The project was almost entirely completed within two months after the awarding of the contract, and fully signed off and complete by January 2015, delivering speeds up to 1000Mbps and beyond to 100% of businesses and homes in the parish, many of which have taken the service.