Project Update #16

EX16 Progress Updates

Oct  2021

It’s been a while since we issued a general update as our last few updates have been localised to the areas currently in build.
We continue to make steady but slow progress, the last 4-6 months have been extremely challenging both from terrain, material availability, staffing, access and voucher logistics! That said we continue to connect additional properties every week and will continue to do so even despite the challenges of getting fuel these last few weeks – we average around 100-150L of unleaded each week or 6-8 Jerry Cans, so with the current limits we now have to visit fuel stations several times just to keep working.
To give this some additional context CDS agreed an Openreach FTTP extension build using Gainshare funding of £6m to cover 2000 properties in July 2020
But this contract has yet to deliver any completed connections. We may be slower than we would have hoped but we are getting to you.
Global Semiconductor shortages continue to have an impact on electronics delivery, currently this is most notable with Nokia Fibre ONT (where the fibre terminates in your home) which have a 9 month leadtime… our next batch is due end of October just as we run out of stock, fortunately we have a good relationship with a number of alternative sources should be have any supply issues. The same ONT is used by Openreach on their fibre connections as well as many other UK Alt Networks all of whom are struggling with availability.
We’re also starting to see material delays with our main Duct supplier – who have announced they will not be taking on any new customers due to capacity. We fortunately have orders in place for all our build needs but we are seeing delays in receiving forward orders of upto a month and likely to grow over the coming months. By maintaining flexibility in our network design and build we have been able to overcome any delays to date, either by completing other sections or adjusting our design, but it does impact forward planning and makes it even harder to commit to timeframes to connect you.
We remain in a state of limbo with regards to applying for new vouchers, which is incredibly frustrating especially when we have no choice but to pass by properties who would otherwise wish to be connected. This has had a major impact on our build in Waterrow in particular where takeup was already very poor compared to other areas, in some cases we’ve passed by 11 properties to connect 2 or 3. Not only is this frustrating but it is also very costly for us, and starves the build of cashflow from the funding received from completed connections as well as revenue. In real terms we are £30k over planned budget building in Waterrow, which obviously has knock on effects on both the pace and extent of our build. Elsewhere we have benefited from late adopters who could sign up while we were outside, and this has been a real disadvantage in Waterrow.
The main reason behind the Voucher issue is that BDUK who run the voucher scheme have all the postcodes flagged as ineligible due to Connecting Devon & Somerset’s new contract with Airband – this replaces the failed contract with Gigaclear. Despite both BDUK and CDS having our approved Voucher project postcode and UPRN data, these properties are in scope for build by Airband.
You can see Airband contract coverage here
including Clusters C16 Waterrow and C17 Clatworthy both scheduled for mid 2024.
Unfortunately their map just shows road routes around the area but includes all of Chipstable where we are already connected and live to 96% of properties as well as parts of Raddington and Clatworthy. This has been in discussion with CDS and BDUK since May and while the issue is acknowledged we are no closer to a resolution. We’re grateful for the assistance of Francis Nicholson in making the case within SCC but it could take 18months to remove these properties from the Airband contract and redeploy the funding to other communities within Devon & Somerset. 
In the meantime, properties affected by this face the choice of paying a commercial charge to be connected (£1500-3000), wait for the eligibility issue to be resolved to access voucher funding if the funding is still available or wait for Airband Fibre Build in 2024 which may or may not include their property.
The irony is BDUK would issue the vouchers under appeal if we as a supplier were to demonstrate we were at imminent risk of failure, but we are not and nor would a supplier at risk of failure be a viable prospect as a long term ISP to the properties to be connected.
Hopefully everyone will be able to reach a resolution that avoids overbuild our completed network using state aid funding and ensures other areas due to be connected by the Airband contract remain viable. As soon as we make any progress with the affected properties we’ll be in touch with you to arrange your voucher funding or discuss your specific options.
Specific Area Updates
We’ve completed the build as far as Handley to the north / west of the B3227 and are currently working on the remaining properties from between Chipstable and the Village Hall, connecting these depends on some Maize crops which should be clear later in October. The remaining properties around Waterrow particularly those to the south of the B3227 are either waiting on Section 50 applications with Highways or are harder to reach and so we are still evaluating routes. We also have an active request with Highways England / Historic Rail Estate to reuse the Venn Cross Tunnel to link to the south side of the B3227,  but this is subject to Ecology Surveys due to the Bats so this may or may not be viable in a useful timeframe.
Once the properties between Chipstable and the Village Hall area are complete, we should have a better handle on delivery for the remaining properties in Waterrow, but cant give an absolute timeframe currently. It is probable we will move build to other areas and return to waterrow later to reach more properties so please understand we have not forgotten anyone.
Shillingford Area
We have a small number of properties to connect here which we will be aiming to complete in the next 2 weeks and will be in touch accordingly
Raleighs Cross Area / West of Clatworthy
This will be the focus of build during late October / November to extend the build from Stolford to the north, once crops are clear. We’ll be in touch with individual properties in the area as we move north.
Raddington Area
We are currently needing the voucher issues to be resolved here before we commence work on further connections here, as there are a number of affected properties who currently do not have vouchers issued, but would be critical to the build plans going ahead. Worst case we would have to then look at which properties we could connect with the available funding and the viability of extending beyond this. This area is currently the most challenging due to the sparse area, with no central clusters and the number of ineligible properties. We appreciate the frustration for those who did get a voucher and wish to be connected. But following our budget overruns in Waterrow our ability to fund loss making build is limited.
Clatworthy Village
We have made some progress with Wessex Water, but a scheduled finalisation meeting last week did not take place. All being well we should get this wrapped up soon so we can commence the build towards the village. We’ll update the area separately as this comes together.
Upton Ruggs Hill & Brendon Hills
We will be aiming to make some progress on this part of the build towards the end of the year. Unfortunately with the voucher funding we have to work to the deadlines imposed by BDUK so the properties that signed up in March 2021 as the deadline approached have been held back while we connect those with funding reaching expiry.
Other areas
We are frequently approached about extending into new areas, which we would love to be able to explore, however we do have finite resources which are currently fully committed and we are hampered by the lack of eligibility for funding for many of the areas we are approached by. Generally if the area is adjacent to our current build plans and is eligible for funding we can expand to include even a couple of additional properties. If the area is not adjacent then we do need around 40-50 properties in a cluster to be viable. For example we would like to expand further south from Waterrow to include Bathealton and Stawley for example, but these areas have no option but to wait for Airband’s surveys in 2023 / 2024 to understand if they will be included or excluded and then what further funding options are available to them.
You can check eligibility for the UK Gigabit Voucher funding using this postcode checker
If you have any specific queries please bear with us, and please avoid replying directly to this email as when several hundred people reply to the same email it is easy for us to miss you.
Best Wishes and good luck getting fuel!