One of the founders of Lancashire’s unique community-built and owned “hyper-fast” fibre optic (FTTH) rural broadband network, Chris Condor, has in our exclusive interview told ISPreview.co.uk that “fibre is the only technology worth investing time, effort and money in”. Condor also warned that the UK government’s current strategy wasn’t working.
The Broadband For the Rural North (B4RN) project, which ultimately aims to connect thousands of digitally isolated rural homes in the county’s Lower Lune Valley area (East of Lancaster) via a 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) style broadband network, officially began construction at the end of March 2012 and is now ready to connect its first customers.
However, unlike similar developments around the country, B4RN’s effort hasn’t required any subsidy from the government. The project has instead registered itself as a Community Benefit Society (controlled by the Financial Services Authority) and thus much of its funding comes from the community itself, often in return for special shares. Any income over expenditure is then returned back to the community.
Local people are also being encouraged to help build the network, such as by digging trenches through their gardens or fields and into homes. In addition to buying shares the community also has an opportunity to “purchase” shares in exchange for labour and materials during the project build.
It’s a solution that probably wouldn’t work everywhere, especially in dense urban towns and cities where road works can attract significant costs or cause serious disruption. Never the less B4RN appears to be making good progress and that’s despite BT having plans to reach 97% of the county with a slower FTTC solution by the end of 2014 (here). So just how have they managed all this and what advice could they give to help better inform the government’s own strategy?
Q1. First, the most obvious question of all, why are you building a “community fibre network” in the heart of rural north Lancashire, especially when the government has pledged £62.5 million to help make superfast broadband services available to 97% of the county by the end of 2014?
We are building our own network because we know that if we don’t do it now nobody else will. It’s a question of just getting on and doing it. BT are on the record saying it is not economically feasible to build such expensive infrastructure in a sparsely populated rural area, we are not of interest to the big companies whose shareholders expect them to make big profits. We also know we can do the job cheaper than they can with the support of the people who will benefit from the work done.
We are building a community fibre network because we believe fibre is the only technology that is worth investing time, effort and money in and is future proof. A member of the management team has spent his career designing networks and had all the skills needed to design a world class fibre infrastructure. Other members of the team have also been involved with community based wifi and satellite service since 2003 and one laid the first rural fibre in 2009 and proved it wasn’t rocket science. We knew we had the support of many people within the community as they are all desperate for a connection having waited for a decade for the promises of broadband and having many bitter experiences trying to get one. It is a project whose time has come, and someone has to be the first.