3rd September 2017

Dear Sir or Madam,

What does GPA do now?

You should have received previous e-mails telling you that in May 2017 the contractor constructing the GigaPlus Argyll 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 chaos that developed as a result.

When you have read this message please click this link to complete our short questionnaire. The link is repeated at the bottom of the message.

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 these rules are inflexible. It appears that the only option under those rules would be to start a new funding application, followed by another tendering round, which would make it unlikely that there would be any broadband connections for another two years. The board does not consider that this is acceptable. At the time of writing we have set up meetings with politicians in the hope of finding a way to short-cut the process, but it is difficult to be optimistic about the outcome.

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).

The other option is to go private. 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 considered this was an acceptable 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.

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 Lismore] relatively quickly. These connections would create an income stream which could then be used to unlock further funding and take the process further.

*At the time of writing there are suggestions 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 sensible solution.

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 up front for installation and a year’s subscription. In return the subscriber gets fourteen months instead of twelve in the first year. There are alternatives, but this approach avoids the complexities of share issues etc.

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.

Yours sincerely,

Moray Finch
Chairman, GigaPlus Argyll