Fast fibre: A community shows the way

 

Lancashire leads way on fast fibre connection

How fast is your home broadband? Seventy to 80 Mbps if you're one of the few with the very fastest fibre broadband services? Perhaps 10Mbps if you've got an average connection, maybe under 2Mbps if you live some miles from your nearest exchange. So how would you fancy a 500Mbps download scheme?

That is what I've seen on Harry Ball's quite ancient computer - not in the heart of London but in a village in rural Lancashire. Arkholme is hardly a teeming metropolis but Harry is one of the first local residents to be hooked up to the B4RN community broadband network.

After deciding that they were never likely to get a fast broadband connection from one of the major suppliers, a group of local people across this sparsely populated area decided that sitting around moaning about it was not an option. Instead they began a DIY effort, digging channels across the fields and laying fibre optic cables.

Speedtest

They have exploited all sorts of local expertise - from the Lancaster University professor who is an expert in computer networks to the farmer's wife who has just retired from a career in IT support. The cooperation of local landowners has been vital - free access to fields has made it much cheaper to roll out the network. BT and other companies which have to dig up the country roads to lay fibre networks reckon it can cost as much as £10,000 to hook up one rural home - the people at B4RN reckon they can bring that down to around £1,000.

B4RN team

And people like Harry and Susan Ball are now entering the superfast broadband era. The retired couple told me they knew little about computers and had got used to the fact that it was almost impossible on their slow connection to watch video or use Skype. Now Harry is able to watch the iPlayer streaming in HD, and Susan has become a B4RN volunteer, helping to dig trenches for the fibre.

But, after raising half a million pounds from locals who bought shares on the promise of a fast connection, the project now needs to move to the next stage. In the Arkholme village hall this afternoon, B4RN is holding an open day, inviting anyone to drop in and test the broadband connection on their phones or computers.

Fibre cables

The hope is that many will sign up to the £30 per month service, but that some will also buy shares in B4RN. Another £1.5m is needed if the full 265KM network is to be rolled out. That sounds ambitious - but having spent 24 hours watching the volunteers digging trenches, blowing fibre and learning a process called fusion splicing I can see they are a very determined bunch.

As Barry Forde, the networking expert who is the chief executive of B4RN explained to me, fast broadband is not a luxury now, whether in the town or the country. "Farmers are being told they have to fill in forms online," he says. "If you haven't got broadband you are severely disadvantaged."

And despite the £530m government money to bring fast broadband to rural Britain, many communities face a long wait to get connected. In the meantime, others may learn the lesson from B4RN - if you want it in a hurry, just get out and start digging.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 203.

    199 Graphis

    I take your broader point but, for what it's worth, a £12k per annum perpetuity in return for £1million up front isn't a wise investment: it's a 1.2% return - effectively a loss by the time you've factored in the cost of capital.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 202.

    Cool, we would love that kind of speed we get 16mega doodies in Cumbria. Dunno what i would do with your faster speeds though. Way to go, how much was it each? £1000? How much a month? How many people have it now? Is there any spare? where did you get it from? I take it not from BT, though i guess you must have used some of their network. I don't know how it works :)

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 201.

    It is so refreshing to see people doing something positive about getting a service instead if wingeing that the taxpayers should pick up their bills. Well done the people of Arkholme!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 200.

    On the issue of B4RN missing out on Government money, the problem is that this often comes with lots of clauses and that can make it even harder to reach the point they have, which is pretty amazing and are joining the select club of parts of the UK with Gigabit access.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 199.

    194. Miss Ingoff
    "assuming the revenues outweigh the costs"

    Not initially, I expect. If BT invested £1M to get £1K return a month, initially it doesn't look like a wise investment. But they'd be getting £1K a month, every month, indefinitely. Eventually, the revenue would far outweigh the costs. But they clearly don't see long-term.

 

Comments 5 of 203

 

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