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B4RN Target £1.375m to Extend 1Gbps Fibre Broadband in Lancashire UK

Saturday, Jul 6th, 2013 (7:11 am) - Score 1,495

The non-profit B4RN (Broadband 4 Rural North) scheme, which is rolling out a “hyperfast” 1000Mbps capable community-built Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) broadband network in rural Lancashire (England, UK) and has now connected 170 premises, hopes to secure an extra £875k from the RCBF and a bank loan of £500k to boost its coverage.

B4RN has already fully funded (around £400k) its core network build via a mix of private investment and community involvement (e.g. locals help to build the network in return for shares), which is helping to connect various areas (around 8 parishes / 1,400 premises) between Quernmore and Arkholme in the Lower Lune Valley area.

Most recently the project has also announced plans for extending this network to a further 21 parisheson the edges of our network“ (here), which equates to about 3,200 premises (well beyond the original target). Under the original plans Phase 1 was predicted to cost around £1.86 million.

Funding and Competition

Obviously that still leaves B4RN with a big gap in its Phase 1 funding and thus for the past few months it’s been working to plug this by seeking additional investment, such as through the £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) and a possible bank loan (the loan would be attached to a 10 year payback).

Barry Forde, B4RNs CEO, told ISPreview.co.uk:

The original plan was for ~1400 properties in 8 parishes. This has grown progressively and we are now targeting 3200 properties across 21 parishes. The £870K figure is based on the 3200 overall target less those that are already either connected or likely to be before the RCBF funding becomes available.”

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and B4RN has had to fight to protect its focus on the county’s last 3%, which partly stems from the £62.5 million Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) supported project between BT and Lancashire County Council (LCC) that aims to cover 97% of the region with BT’s rival superfast broadband (FTTC/P) technology (here).

BT refuses to say which 3% of the region wouldn’t be covered by its network and that forced B4RN to lodge a complaint about LCC’s use of state aid with the European Commission (as noted by Br0kenTeleph0n3). But Forde eventually agreed to drop the complaint provided LCC protected its postcode areas from BT’s rival scheme (it remains to be seen whether LCC holds to this).

Sadly a delay to the RCBF process has meant that B4RN have been left waiting to find out whether they will be able to secure the £875k, which is important because the bank are also awaiting the outcome (risk assessment). But Forde said that he was “confident” about getting the loan, which is “not conditional” on securing the RCBF grant.

However a reliance on the loan might force B4RN to adopt a more “commercial approach” because there wouldn’t be the RCBF buffer to help them enable the most remote properties (i.e. they’d end up cherry picking the most economically viable clusters before later coming back to the remotest areas). This would somewhat go against B4RN’s traditional “do the whole parish” approach.

Current Uptake

It was revealed in February 2013 that the project had already managed to connect 157 homes to its FTTH network (here) with 300 premises passed. But most of the digging since then has been across a fairly sparse area. B4RN’s Chris Conder told ISPreview.co.uk that it now has 170 premises connected (this includes 24 farms/homes/businesses on the Wennet network via a wifi link).

The total number of actual connections is predicted to rise again soon because B4RN’s network has just reached the village of Wray, which is expected to be a “big customer base” for their new service (about 500-600 people live in Wray). People living in urban areas might not view this as big, yet on B4RN’s scale it’s significant.

In related news the government has called in smaller ISPs, including B4RN, to discuss the last 5-10% issue at a summit with BT on 15th July 2013 (here).

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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