The Genesis of INCA – the development of the INCA work programme

INCA’s genesis lies in the debate around next generation broadband that started in earnest with the publication of the Broadband Stakeholder Group’s Pipedreams Report in April 2007. This report demonstrated that a homogenous, national roll-out of next generation access (NGA) was unlikely given the costs and commercial risks involved for BT and other major operators. It was around this time that Brian Condon and other members of Community Broadband Network (CBN) started to articulate the idea that a ‘patchwork quilt’ of local initiatives could emerge to fill the gap. At the time CBN was engaged in a number of early stage projects looking at the feasibility of next generation broadband and had learned much from overseas projects in Scandinavia, North America and in the Netherlands, notably the Nuenen community-owned FTTH project near Eindhoven.
 
In 2008 a CBN workshop proposed the creation of a new association of regional and local initiatives, bringing together those working to build open access, next generation projects in the public, private and community sectors. This grew into INCA. At the same time CBN proposed the development of a ‘Joint Operating Network’ (JON), based on thinking developed by Adrian Wooster, initially to connect local projects but later effectively to become a next generation broadband market place with a series of hubs or ‘meet me’ points enabling local access projects to offer connections to service providers seeking customers. CBN members started to discuss these ideas in particular with local authorities involved in the Digital Challenge 10 Network (DC-10), contacts in the private sector and in Government. CBN presented this thinking to Francesco Caio who had been asked by Government to review the barriers to investment in next generation broadband. His report, published in September 2008 explicitly recognised the need for regional and local projects, and recognised some of the barriers to their development. His report recommended:
 
Establishing standards for local NGA developments. In order to maximise the opportunities for scale deployment, local access networks across the country can organise to standardise technical requirements and present a coherent front to service providers. The Government should ask the Community Broadband Network to organise such a development. 

Caio spoke at the Next Gen 08 Conference organised by CBN with the support of Manchester Council, DC10 and many private sector organisations in November 2008. In his speech Caio made clear that he expected regional and local projects to play a major role in the roll-out of next generation broadband.
 
Following the Caio Review, Lord Stephen Carter working across the departments for business (BERR) and culture (DCMS) initiated the process that led to the Digital Britain report. In January 2009 CBN was asked to present its thinking on creating a framework to support next generation projects. By this time CBN had accumulated practical experience of projects under development in rural and urban settings. Action 5 of the Digital Britain Interim Report referred to CBN’s plans stating:
 
The Government will help implement the Community Broadband Network’s proposals for an umbrella body to bring together all the local and community networks and provide them with technical and advisory support.  

In February 2009 CBN put forward a formal proposal for financial support for three activities: (i) the creation of INCA, (ii) funding to scope the JON project and (iii) funding to help provide a local development mentoring and support service. During negotiations with civil servants it was agreed that BERR (later BIS) would provide funding to support the creation of INCA; funding for JON and the ‘Local Development Service’ would have to be found elsewhere. CBN and the Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG) agreed to co-operate in developing a dialogue between service providers and those planning or building local access networks to define the commercial, operational, technical and service standards issues that Caio had previously identified. This made sense since BSG membership includes most of the major service providers, CBN was working to create INCA operating on behalf of the network developers. It became the COTS process.
 
Negotiations over funding took a lot longer than anticipated, mainly due to the frenetic pace of activity to research and publish the Digital Britain Final Report in June 2009. 
 
Meanwhile CBN had embarked on a series of regional Next Gen 09 roadshows, funded through commercial sponsorship, in particular from Alcatel-Lucent, to promote the idea of local next generation broadband projects as alternative ways of organising NGA. At events in Gateshead, Bristol, Nottingham, Birmingham, Basingstoke and Manchester CBN members explained their plans and sought feedback from the 300 people who attended in person plus many more who engaged online. CBN also promoted these ideas through other conferences, reports and consultations.
 
The Digital Britain Final Report referred to these plans:
 
71. As we set out in the Interim Report, independent localised networks can, so long as they are constructed in an inter-operable fashion to allow services at scale across the country, play an important part in the development of our next generation broadband networks. We welcome the plans to provide greater cohesion to  independent networks across the country.

72. Localised and community network developments have a role to play in developing next generation broadband, and where we can we should look to support their capacity, scale and expertise. Work on standardisation and inter-operability between local networks has already commenced. The Government will provide further support through a £150,000 grant to support the Independent Networks Co-operative Association (INCA). 
 
In July 2009 CBN brought together a group of more than 20 public, private and community sector organisations to discuss plans to create INCA. They agreed unanimously that it was an initiative they wanted to support. However some others expressed fears that INCA could in some way undermine their efforts in the field. CBN sought to dispel these concerns at meetings and at a special workshop in Leeds timed to coincide with the Next Gen 09 Conference that November. At the conference an audience of more than 250 people heard the Minister the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP and the Opposition spokesman Ed Vaizey MP speak in support of the INCA initiative. 
 
Negotiations with BIS were finally concluded in December 2009 with receipt of a funding offer letter. The letter arrived just before Christmas. Until this point in time (and indeed beyond) all INCA development work and costs had been met from CBN’s own, limited resources.
 
The period of the offer ran from July 2009 (just after publication of the Digital Britain Report) to 30th June 2010 and included provision for recovery of some start up costs. However the bulk of the work funded in a one year programme had to be condensed into six months. CBN members signed the registration papers, and invited a group of the founding members to form an Interim Board which first met in January 2010. Given the short period of time available CBN offered to second its CEO, Malcolm Corbett to lead the creation of INCA. The Interim Board happily accepted this offer, approved the Mission Statement for the new organisation and the plans put forward to develop INCA. The Interim Board also approved the creation of a special Scrutiny & Liaison Panel to address further issues that had been raised by some community based networks. 
 
Also available to download form this page is the following document: