Supplementary memorandum submitted by
Commission for Rural Communities
There are two facets to the issue of shared/community
use of public services infrastructure and the associated procurement
1. USE OF
One of the major barriers to further private
sector investment in rural areas is an alleged lack of demand
from local businesses and communities. Our research shows that
this demand exists and indeed outstrips that in urban areas, but
requires encouragement in order to support the commercial case
for investment. We think that the provision of broadband "hubs",
for example a school or hospital with the right broadband connectivity,
could both fuel and demonstrate demand by increasing access to
readily available ICT infrastructure; whether this be through
offering a local wireless network or out-of-hours use of facilities.
These "hubs" would therefore address
short-term under-provision of broadband in certain areas. We recognise
that this solution would not address longer term investment needs,
but would create a short-term stimulus to demand.
The CRC discussed this point with Rt Hon Jim
Knight MP in his former role as Schools Minister, who was supportive
of the idea and knows of a similar model in Atlanta. Schools could
provide more out of hours access to their broadband facilities
for pupils, family and older people without adequate broadband
access. If this were to be linked with community broadband initiatives
which support training and awareness of users, this could provide
a highly cost effective and speedy response to urgent local needs.
Competition and State Aid regulations in support
of public sector procurement are creating a barrier to this shared
use of infrastructure. For example, a school's ICT infrastructure
being shared by local healthcare providers.
Following discussions between the CRC and RDA
Chairs, an agreement was reached that the way forward is the development
of a framework contract between public sector departments in order
to enable shared infrastructure development. Clearly this would
need to be delivered through the cooperation of all government
departments. We see this as a priority of the Digital Inclusion
Action Plan team, and will continue to work with them and the
RDA ICT leads to achieve this.
The CRC is also grateful to the Community Broadband
for adding its technical expertise to the following background
clarification on access to JANET and other educational facilities'
Local education authorities typically procure
special networks specifically for education and schools. In the
past this has often been a product called "learning stream"
from BT, which carried contractual obligations not to use the
service for anything other than education, and more recently they
have increasingly used the academic network SuperJanetwhich
again has constraints on what they are allowed to do.
With a requirement to install at least a 10mbps
symmetrical service into every primary school in England, this
feels like a golden opportunity to ensure capacity is delivered
which can be used by disconnected communities. But it needs very
In the next generation world, the UK is developing
an agreed standard called "Active Line Access". CBN
is working with the standards bodies to shape how this evolves,
and one of the changes which they have proposed is to support
to the customer. Essentially this means that a single physical
cable will be able to carry more than one separate service. This
is a key feature for unlocking schools, where one virtual network
could be used for the schools network, while a second could be
set-up for a more general internet service for the communityand
the two a secured from each other so there is no additional risk
for the children. Similar models could work for cottage hospitals.
Whilst in the future, this will be a tool to
support schools and communities together, the landscape today
isn't so easy. Many of the existing contracts prevent uses other
than education, so there is little that can be done other than
to wait until they expire, and ensure replacements are more flexible.
CBN are also exploring with SuperJanet ways
in which they might be able to re-arrange how they work with schools
and the community to unlock their networks. SuperJanet are keen,
but it is quite a challenging task, and one which they may not
be able to make progress on in the short term, especially without
It should also be pointed out that procurement
models vary around the country. For instance in the North West,
the contrast between how the northern and southern halves of the
region have approached the problem has created a very useful contrast;
The south has taken a more traditional approach of leased circuits,
while the north has invested in their own network where possible
which has given them more flexibility.
There are also some practical implementation
points to consider:
Many councils are also broadly supportive
of making use of school-based infrastructure (where contracts
allow), but it can often come down to the attitude of the Head
Teacher and the Board of Governors. Some schools are naturally
wary of allowing anyone onto their network. A more unified
approach (ie Districts and Councils agreeing a `protocol' and
any security conditions or methods) might help ease Governing
The grants for broadband into schools
have traditionally come into the LEA who have then provisioned
most servicesthis is set to change next year, when schools
will receive grants directly. They may then wish to look at collaborating
with other local organisations to share the costs of leased lines
into their villages etc.
The predicted cutbacks to public
sector finance may lead to greater rationalisation of networks
and sharing of infrastructure eg between NHS and Education. Some
believe that the massive investment in these sectors has previously
established "fiefdoms" with IT teams that are reluctant
to share resources between departments.
12 November 2009
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