West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative
Website (West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative)
summary of project
Whitcomm Co-operative Ltd is independent of but was set up in partnership with West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative Ltd in 2008 and was the first community owned company delivering services using a fibre network in the UK.
The project delivers ‘Fibre to the Home’ (FTTH) services to 100 homes which had the infrastructure built as part of a new build project. Internet access at up to 50Mps is delivered to subscribers, who pay for their service on a monthly basis.
The project is based on ‘dark fibre’, which means that it can be used as required by the Co-operative.
Whitcomm acts as an Internet connection reseller, aggregating the costs of Internet connectivity and reducing individual household costs as a consequence.
The Internet service includes the option of Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony services delivered by Vonage UK, and Sky services through an MDU device.
The West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative owns the infrastructure, and the Whitcomm Co-operative owns the ‘active network and service provision over the network’.
85 of the 100 households who form the Co-operative subscribe to the service (prior to this development 65% had no Internet access at home).
It is now normal in the households who subscribe to the service that five or six devices are connected at once.
The service originally included TV-based Internet services, but these have been discontinued because of changes in consumer demand (see Lessons Learnt).
The cabled connection is widened through WiFi services by customers connecting their own wireless routers.
Training for IT skills is supported through services delivered in the Whitlawburn Community Resource Centre.
Decisions are made by the community via a committee of customers (all customers are members and elect the committee at the AGM)
who was it aimed at?
The 100 households who reside in the new (2008) build development and who form the Whitcomm Co-operative.
how was it funded?
The infrastructure was funded as part of the new build of the 100 houses, with additional support of around £50k from the Cooperative Group.
housing resources provided
The costs of the project were incorporated into the new build budget.
The Whitcomm co-operative is supported by West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, who brought the ethos and experience of working as a co-operative.
what partners were involved?
Network design was supported by Fibre Options
Infrastructure was delivered by Occam Networks
VoIP is delivered by Vonage UK
Technical knowledge required for specialist infrastructure project (overcome by working with suppliers)
Requirement to set up governance arrangements (overcome through experience of co-operative arrangements)
Predicting changing consumer requirements.
Customer costs can be significantly reduced through reselling Internet services when the infrastructure is owned by them. However, more recent advances in bundled services have meant that a full Sky package has become cheaper than can be delivered through the Co-operative.
New build projects offer the opportunity to deliver fibre infrastructure to customers in a way which would not be possible with existing build.
Infrastructure support requirements can be solved through an appropriate third party contract.
Consumer demand can be affected by other disruptive technology: the project originally delivered Internet services via television and wireless keyboard, which were welcomed by customers who felt greater confidence in Internet use through the TV than through personal computers, because they were using a technology (the TV) with which they were already familiar, and which involved no security concerns. However, this service declined in popularity and is no longer delivered, because of the advent of tablet computers (and inexpensive laptops).
A volunteer development programme to provide peer support (mostly about connecting devices) has been replaced with staff support, because it’s more effective to deliver support through a central service.
The potential recognised as the project was set up has not all been realised.
Prior to the project, other examples were looked at, including a similar project in Eindhoven, in Holland in which telecare services provided included preventative care systems including the monitoring of diabetes, and ‘loneliness channels’ (room to room multi-chat systems). However, the implementation of the system and consideration of its potential has led to the development of a housing alarm system (a pendant with a button to press and an intercom concierge service. CCTV runs across the network in common areas, providing safety reassurance, and this has also led to the concierge service developing as routine to include watching tenants going out in icy conditions, which now applies to the whole estate, not just the Whitcomm customers).
It was envisaged that Whitcomm would be able to develop video on demand services but content creation projects have not been developed (the 2008 date of implementation was also noted for the beginning of the economic crash, curtailing opportunities for funding).
It was envisaged that local strategic partners could use the network to deliver services, but this hasn’t happened.
The potential to use the network as a ‘living lab’ for other services to test innovative services, because the size of the network would facilitate this well, but this hasn’t so far happened.
It was expected that the project would develop a community portal, but this has not been seen as required (and much of the potential is now delivered without support through independent social media).
The committee is determined to do more with Whitcomm in the coming years and is looking at other ways to deliver Whitcomm's digital inclusion aims.
Morag Gladstone, IT Officer
Susan Paton, Project Officer firstname.lastname@example.org