I note with excitement the B4RN website has gone live today. BARN do I hear you say? It stands for Broadband For the Rural North and is a community initiative set up by a team including Barry Forde, Chris Conder and Lindsey Annison to provide Fibre to the Home for country dwellers currently either completely unable to get broadband or the connection is so slow it is hardly worth the effort.
B4RN is not a Big Society, BDUK, Government funded project. It is reliant on the community itself investing in its own future. Its founders have become totally disillusioned with attempts to formalise “superfast broadband” projects under government initiatives.
To lay fibre cables to all 1322 properties across the 8 parish areas proposed for the first phase rollout will cost £1.86M. Each property taking service will get 1Gbs symmetrical broadband at a monthly charge currently set at £30 (£25+VAT).
The fibre terminating equipment in the customers property will have a one hour battery back up installed. This will allow those who want to use VoIP telephony services exclusively, to cease their landlines saving the £13.90 monthly line rental charge. Existing telephone numbers can be moved over to the service.
Members of the community can subscribe for shares in B4RN from a minimum amount of £100 up to the maximum permitted under FSA rules of £20,000.
As well as offering shares in exchange for cash investments B4RN are looking to the community to subscribe with payment of labour and/or materials. Of the £1.86M cost of building the network over £500K is due to labour; so there is considerable scope for members to contribute their labour rather than cash. There are many who could dig the trenches, install duct and make good afterwards and their contribution to the project would be invaluable. Similarly there are administrative, clerical and technical support roles to be filled and these skills and time can be offered in kind to purchase shares.
£1.86 million sounds like a lot but it isn’t. It’s around £1,400 per property. It’s a fraction of the what it would cost the likes of BT because their overheads are so much higher and B4RN is benefitting from easement waivers from the local landowners in the interest of the wider community – something that they would be unlikely to do for a for profit organisation such as BT.
What’s more this investment is hugely future proofed as the initial service will offer each property 1Gbps symmetrical connectivity, upgradeable at some point because it is fibre all the way.
I visited the B4RNlocale a couple of weeks or so ago and it is very rural. You can see the detailed business plan with a very transparent presentation of the costs of the project on the B4RN website here. It really does put BDUK to shame.
We all need to give this project our support because it seriously does represent the future of broadband in rural Britain. Also, at 1Gbps if we could but see it B4RN also represents the future of what all our broadband services should look like.