West Sussex Better Connected :- Or How To Eat An Elephant.

I was fortunate to be invited to attend the recent West Sussex Better Connected : Rural Broadband Summit 2011 which was held in the council chambers at Chichester on May 20th.

It was arranged by Nick Herbert MP and by the members and staff of West Sussex County Council. It featured a number of delegates , listed below , and was attended by many parish councillors and interested parties; you can view a full list on this handout available from Nick Herberts website. 


The Session was recorded on West Sussex Public i.tv however I cannot embed this video from their site so for the moment you will have to click on this link : West Sussex Better Connected 20 May 2011 Video to open a new window.


Throughout the summit is was clear that the term ‘super fast’ broadband speed was defined by a speed of at least 24Mbps (mega bits per second ) and whilst there was a  Govt target set by DCMS as 2Mbps this was to be considered the minimum acceptable speed for connectivity. I should emphasise that no point in the conversations was anything less than  10Mbps considered as reasonable. I think we need to end the 2Mbps propaganda and focus on what is available to communities if they want it.


Of the talks given I was left with the impression that Jeremy Leggett of Action In Rural Sussex (AiRS ) fully understood the implications of slow internet access to communities further Jeremy demonstrated Community21.org a tool for parish planning and community management and a pretty good step forward in the direction of open administration . Bill Murphy , Managing Director of BT Next Generation Access gave a talk which left a few of us feeling ‘told off’ and berated for considering anything other than BT for delivering broadband to communities. Finally Jeremy Hunt MP arrived to conclude the talk and sum up the views of the Govt in its concerns over broadband speeds in the UK. 

It was made clear by  Jeremy Hunt MP  and by Robert Ling ( of Broadband Delivery UK ) that councils, parishes and communities could assemble a broadband action plan detailing how they would deliver broadband to their neighbourhood as well as how funds would be met. In turn the Govt would look to provide additional , or possibly matched , funding to those projects to aid in their completion. This is an opportunity for villages and towns to take on the delivery of their communication infrastructure and to improve it.


Throughout the day I had been dogged in pursuing  the question of price and cost.  I posed the question “Where can I get a price list of the necessary items required to put super fast broadband into my area ?”. As a councillor I am familiar with the publication LCR which is ‘the voice of Local Councils’ and in which there are adverts for playgrounds, streetlighting and furniture.  I persisted that it must be possible to have a price list or a quotation  which could be taken back to our parish and town councils with the view to planning budgets. As I persisted in questioning it was obvious that this had not been addressed.

A whole day spend talking about why we need a product and at the end when asked for the costs , none was available.

I am pleased to say that at the end of the summit Louise Goldsmith ( Leader, West Sussex County Council ) and Peter R Cowen ( Partnership Director Retail BT ) approached me to suggest that the Broadband Consortium and Mike Hickes ( WSCC Broadband Programme Manager ) would endeavour pull together this price list as a starting point for conversations at council and community levels.  Dr Robert Sullivan ( Chief Executive Broadband Delivery UK ) suggested there was a Huddle group which contained some of the more salient details I was seeking , later Robert Ling ( @ling_robert )   direct messaged me via Twitter to point out  www.bigsocietybroadband.coop and www.ruralbroadband.com  as resources for that information though I cannot find that data despite crawling the website  so it remains unavailable.

Our next actions

It is clear to me that groups, communities, parish , town and county councils need to have a clear price list and minimum specifications for the delivery of broadband infrastructure. It begins with price lists and work orders and builds out to fully completed parish plans ( no doubt management agencies will spawn to provide consultancy to council and groups to help them get funding ) form there orders need to be raised and work commenced. An ordinary person approaching these sort of disjointed and multi faceted tasks might bulk at the thought. My own experience in working with the Open Source community leaves me with the mind set that these goals are entirely achievable and that management and delivery of these projects is a task best approached in small chunks and tiny bites.

Money will need to be raised, either in kickstarter projects, donations or  increases in precepts ( another word for tax ). None of this can begin unless we draw a clear line in the accounts for the amount we need to raise and how that money will be managed.

What is clear to me is that the opportunity is now open for those who want super fast broadband to begin to plan and  deliver on that need and that Local Councils are encouraged to aid and deliver and ensuring that hurdles to planning can be passed.


Thanks for reading.

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4 Comments on “West Sussex Better Connected :- Or How To Eat An Elephant.

  1. Hi Nik, helpful report.

    A price-list would be great, difficult to do though since the cost of a next gen project depends on a number of variables including technology choices, local geography, access to existing infrastructure etc.

    However there are many people who can help and the next stage with the big society broadband project is working on models and project examples that can help communities like yours, plus of course putting you in touch with others dealing with similar challenges.

    Happy to talk on the phone if you want to email or give me a call on 0xxx0 xxxxxx. [ Site Admin removed number ]

    Malcolm Corbett

  2. Hello Malcolm and thank you for replying. I accept that the task of building a price list if difficult to do but it is not impossible to achieve. The task of gathering costs and building price lists will with each iteration get easier. I have seen large global spanning projects be delivered with little to no capital investment other than voluntary time and effort in constructing the information and projects. I do not see this as being any different. So far the only thing I have heard is “this will be difficult” or “suppliers do not want to provide prices” so it is clear that we need to start assembling the data from what is known and what has been known and in making that information available we should make it available so that we can all dig in to the project, a piece at a time, and make it accesible. The only hurdle to this is Suppliers feeling that they cant publish their prices. Frankly if Tesco can publish the price of beans and BAe can publish the price of a Jetliner then the suppliers can oblige the public and provide the information when requested , or are these monopolies feeling that their prices will be the next expense scandal ? Lets get the price lists moving by breaking the issues into three categories. First we need to know how to price ground work and site preperation. Then we need to have the price for physcial hardware then we need to have a price for maintenance. We can flesh out and flesh up from that but I am pretty sure that this is a task that can be done otherwise what else have surveyors been doing for the last few decades ?

  3. we haz price list for rural. but if I published it I would have to shoot you. nda and all that jazz. suffice it to say its a fraction of the price BT would charge, ergo it makes sense to finance smaller companies rather than the larger companies. leave the elephant to trundle off into infinity and oblivion and lets build some proper fibre networks as competition.

  4. Hi Nick,

    The key is demand for service and given sufficient demand then a viable £1 per day future proof network is sustainable right now without a penny of pubic subsidy.

    In order to effect this transformation simply requires folks to get together and step up.

    A question to consider at the outset on what you want to achieve exactly e.g. an outcome that provides a lasting benefit to our community or a more engaged level of involvement in service delivery.

    There are options for both outcomes and a range in between.

    What really matters are the terms of trade that result when all this network building fuss is a half forgotten memory – aka what do we get and at what cost and how do we ensure that future-proof is as much about the deal as the delivery.

    NextGenUs UK CIC offers a social enterprise approach and there are other alternatives out there too.

    Hope this helps,