Very disappointed that I did not even have an acknowledgement of the email so here it is in public. We had a very unsatisfactory meeting with CBS a week last Friday and have heard nothing from the meeting that Government has had with CBS this week. Communities which are working hard to help themselves should not have Government or Government Agencies put unnecessary obstacles in their way.
Dear Mr Lochhead,
I met you briefly at the SCFF AGM, Thistle Hotel in Inverness on the 24th of January. You joined us after the closed session and introduced a couple of topics relevant to the remote fishing communities of the west coast, one of which was an improved broadband service. As I mentioned at the time this is a live issue where I live in Applecross, Wester Ross. I was given your card with the instruction to get in touch with you about this subject. Due to work and community volunteering this has been delayed somewhat.
Although I am a Community Councillor and Community Company director I am penning this as an individual.
Some background. Applecross Community Company was formed in 2008, initially to refurbish our “dying” Filling Station. This we have done through applying for grants and running the Station as a Community Enterprise, long before The Third Society was dreamed up. Although we have had operational problems we have run the Filling Station as the first 24/7 in the UK solely through community volunteers and at a profit.
We have just taken over and refurbished the Highland Council toilets and intend to run them on the same model. These toilets are now regarded as among the best in the Highlands and are symbolic of how the community is run as they are often the first stop for visitors travelling over the Bealach and visitors realise that they have come to some where special.
Running alongside these ventures the Company has been progressing a small Hydro scheme with the intention of generating an income stream for the Applecross Community, thus increasing our capacity and resilience, cutting down the reliance on outside agencies. We hope to build this year having gone through the process of CAR licence, environmental surveys and planning. Our only major obstacle has been dealing with SSE where a 90kw connection turns out not to be what one would expect it to mean. But the community is now looking at local power, again innovative, to use excess generated power not allowed on our national grid.
Presently we have a group of post graduate students from around the world, studying at Flensburg University, Germany, carrying out an energy survey on the peninsula with the aim to reduce carbon output. Applecross Energy Efficiency, funded by Climate Challenge have put in huge amounts of often unpaid work along with our Local Dvelopment Officer to host an Energy Efficiency Conference last week, very successfully pulling in speakers from across the country.
I only tell you this to give you an idea what is happening in the Applecross Community. The problem we have now regarding our new and again innovative Community Broadband system, Applenet. After a successful pilot project, which funded nine connections which were serviced from the Broadford exchange, line of site to Applecross and carried out by Hebnet, one of the leaders in the field. This was funded by Vilage SOS and has proved to be very successful, increasing our download speeds from 1/2 a meg from BT to 5/6 meg now, greatly improving the potential of working from home. When CBS was established we were ahead of the game but delayed the next part of our project in the hope of funding. Although we accepted that we would not fulfil our intention to connect our community this year in the expectation of further funding we were taken aback to discover as we were awarded the funding it was classed as de minimus. This has now put us over the 200,000 euro limit over three years and basically stopped any further planed development in our community. If this stipulation had been made clear when we applied for CBS funding we would have looked elsewhere to stay within State Aid regulations. I do not understand why there has been a blanket decision taken on broadband funding. No one has been able to tell who or where this decision was taken. Reading the Official Journal of the European Union,26.1.2013, as one does, the third section on The Assessment of State Aid for Broadband gives an overview of this subject, especially regarding “White Areas”.
‘White areas’ are those in which there is no broadband infrastructure and it is unlikely to be developed in the near future. The Commission targets for the DAE aim for a ubiquitous coverage of basic broadband services in the EU by 2013 and of at least 30 Mbps by 2020. It is therefore a priority to ensure timely investment in areas which are not yet sufficiently covered. The Commission acknowledges therefore that by providing financial support for the provision of broadband services in areas where broadband is currently not available, Member States pursue genuine cohesion and economic development objectives and thus, their intervention is likely to be in line with the common interest, provided the conditions set out in Section 3.4 below are fulfilled (81).
Also regarding access to NGA network, although there is no plan to do this as far as I am aware this is covered as well.
Accordingly, for the purposes of assessing State aid for NGA networks, an area where NGA networks do not at present exist and where they are not likely to be built within 3 years in line with paragraphs 63 to 65 by private investors, should be considered to be a ‘white NGA’ area. Such an area is eligible for State aid to NGA provided the compatibility conditions indicated in Sections 3.4 and 3.5 are fulfilled.
I know I am not a lawyer and just fish for langoustine on the west coast of Scotland but these missives,to my mind, clearly state that our network part funded by CBS should not qualify as state aid and thus push us over the de minimus limit. This will have severely curtail our future plans for our community. On Friday afternoon it was confirmed that new BB network projects are now no longer to be de minimus but our project is still going to be in that category. We see this as inhibiting our innovative and pioneering community, in fact you could see it almost as a punishment. I believe we have the potential both as a community and a country to do great things in the near future and the role of government is to aid this. I would plead with you to review the decision as the alternatives are unnecessary and cumbersome to the limited capacity of our small and fragile community. We feel we are being punished for being pioneers and our problems are either not being understood properly or are being dismissed as not important. I was encouraged with what you said in Inverness and would appreciate you look at our problem in the same light.
Yours Sincerely Ali Macleod