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UPD Rural Ards Peninsula in N.Ireland Clones B4RN to Prep 1Gbps Fibre Project

Monday, July 29th, 2013 (2:05 am) - Score 1,443

A new group called Lightstream Community Fibre (LCF), which appears to have cloned B4RN’s network approach in Lancashire (England, UK), has been setup to help bring a 1000Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) based broadband network to rural parts of the Ards Peninsula (County Down) in Northern Ireland.

According to Ofcom, 96% of households in N.I can already access a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) connection (here) but this falls to 92.4% in rural areas. The Ards Peninsula on the north-east coast appears to be one of the regions that has so far been unable to benefit from the latest network upgrades and the new scheme intends to change that.

Unfortunately it’s often difficult for commercial companies to make an economically viable case for upgrading the most rural parts of a country (i.e. too few customers). LCF plans to tackle this by lowering the costs, both in the building of the broadband network and to the end user, by using local contractors and the community.

Nik Fox, LCF Chief Executive, told ISPreview.co.uk

Farmers and local people have the skillset we need for this project. They know the land and people, and have been offering to work for shares, which means the digging for the core network can start early in 2014. We expect this to be completed in approximately 3 months, weather permitting, and then we will begin to connect the first users. We’ve had many abortive commercial projects & now it’s time to Just Do It! Others have done this successfully in the US & in England, now we know it can work & its time to stop moaning & start digging.”

The LCF, which claims to have been established as a “not for profitCommunity Interest Company (CIC), intends to follow similar networks by laying their own fibre optic cables over farmland and involving members of the local community (e.g. farmers) to help build the network and thus cut costs.

Shares will be issued to provide funding for the project and members of the community will be encouraged to subscribe to the share issue, which are to be made available under the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) that offers 30% tax relief, with a minimum investment of £100 and maximum of £100,000.

Locals that invest £1500 into the scheme will be paid in shares and can also expect bonuses, such as a free installation and 12 months of free service (plus further free months for early bird investors). The initial share offer will be £2,250,000 of shares with a face value of £1, which should be available from December 2013.

LCF Coverage Plans (Phase 1)

In phase 1 we are looking to provide a basic coverage to 5 rural wards in the Ards Peninsula with partial coverage for some others; There is also some spill over beyond ward boundaries where close by properties are more sensibly connected to this phase of the build out. This adds up to around 2266 properties,of which we initially intend to connect around 1133 properties (our 50% takeup figure) – the areas are:-

•Killinchy Ward (1170 properties total)
•Lisbane Ward (688 properties total)
•Ballygowan Ward (105 properties total)
•Comber East Ward (235 properties total)
•Scrabo Ward (45 properties total)

We would also like to extend our coverage South to cover parts of the Derryboy & Saintfield wards.

According to LCF’s website, the Phase 1 Core Network Build (supported by a resilient link back from Belfast) will involve digging circa 75Km of trench and installing appropriate fibre optic cables in them on the trunk routes. The cost of the phase 1 core will be around £364K, while the total cost for creating the company and building the network is claimed to be £1,390,000 and this could reach £2.056 million (once the home connection costs are included).

However, outside of the bonuses, the normal 1Gbps service is expected to cost £30 inc. VAT per month and will be accompanied by a £150 connection fee. Each home will also have a battery backup so “telephony over the fibre means landline connections are no longer required“.

However anybody familiar with the excellent Broadband 4 Rural North (B4RN) project will quickly note, from only a cursory glance, that LCF’s details are strikingly similar. Indeed a large chunk of their text is extremely similar to B4RN’s own pages (though we note that some of this has been removed since we pointed it out yesterday).

ISPreview.co.uk queried the matter with B4RN’s own CEO, Barry Forde, whom said that he was “happy for others to recycle our work into other projects” but also expressed surprise at the similarities. “If they are using our material they should do us the courtesy of asking us first and giving us a credit, neither of which has happened,” said Forde.

Similarly LCF’s core network build costs were initially identical to B4RN’s, which seems highly unusual. Two networks with the same approach can attract similar costs but each will have significant differences (e.g. such as in the route your fibre must take and the work required to build that). As a result it’s difficult to see how both core network builds could have an identical cost.

Needless to say, while the B4RN team are remarkably forgiving of LCF, we remain concerned about the credibility of a project that behaves in such a way; especially one that claims to have been “more than three years in the planning and development stage” and wants £2m of investment (surely plenty of time to write your own content or at least ask B4RN’s permission?).

Never the less LCF, which might potentially also incur the frustration of KC in Hull for using the “Lightstream” name, are planning various community meetings over the coming weeks to discuss their project and have also begun seeking registrations of interest via the website to gauge whether there is sufficient demand. We have already queried the B4RN situation with them and will update this article once a reply has been received.

UPDATE 6:56am

We note that mentions of “B4RN” on LCF’s website have now, since we pointed them out, been removed and their core network build cost has been adjusted from £364k to £370K. ISPreview.co.uk has also received a response.

An LCF Spokesperson said:

The accusation of copy-pasting is a little strong – what I will say in response is that there are only so many ways people doing the same job can quote the same reports, and do it properly. Also, there are only so many terms one can use to talk about projects like this before you run out. Finally, a business plan is a business plan, they all look the same. Especially when the same business model is being employed.”

UPDATE 10:23am

Word on the grapevine is that LCF will shortly be adding some website credit for their use of B4RN’s work, which should hopefully bring this particular issue to an end and allow people to focus on the projects more positive aspects.

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris Conder says:

    much of it was copy pasted, I saw the original and it was word for word, with no attempt to change… and B4RN was up there on our old site 12 months ago. not that it really matters, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Good luck to them.

    Telcos also are trying to copy what we do, getting the farmers to lay the duct and giving free wayleaves. They call it ‘Build and Benefit’ but anyone who falls for that wants their bumps feeling as if you are going to build a proper network why hand it all over to others to reap the rewards? We wouldn’t be in this mess now if the incumbent had invested in its assets instead of paying massive bonuses. Its time for some competition and innovative altnets to provide it. We need to up our game if we want to compete in the global digital revolution.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      So now we know the reason that the UK does not have 100% FTTP. A detailed financial analysis of BT showing that it due to paying massive bonuses. Will be good to see the calculations from Chris.

    2. Avatar Gadget says:

      I make that £911/property at 50% takeup, and if the article is correct WITHOUT ongoing running costs.
      So once again the Delphic poll of what it could cost to FTTP-fibre the whole of the UK comes out at an eye-watering amount.

    3. Avatar Mark says:

      “So now we know the reason that the UK does not have 100% FTTP. A detailed financial analysis of BT showing that it due to paying massive bonuses.”

      Sounds plausible…

  2. Avatar Martyn Dews says:

    Yes, I was also looking at the site last night after being previously unaware of the project and definitely saw a couple of mentions of B4RN in the funding section which had slipped through which have now been removed.

    I personally don’t have a problem with this. If it’s a genuine community benefiting project then why not reuse what’s seen to be successful although as Barry has said, it would have been courteous to have been asked for permission first and also to have been credited somewhere. There’s a benefit in the community groups working together in some areas.

    Good luck to them.

  3. Avatar RD says:

    “if you are going to build a proper network why hand it all over to others to reap the rewards?”

    That is exactly what the Goverment are doing anyways with the 50/50 split in goverment funded BT layout costs and villages across the country stumping up hundreds of thousands of pounds to build BT a profit making network.

    If B4rn can do it everyone can no offence to B4rn! The people should build thier own high speed fibre network across the UK.Get every farmer to dig a trench and we could all have 1GB internet instead of the more expensive BT laid copper/fibre.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      So ‘the farmers’ will be digging trenches through towns?

    2. Avatar Mark says:

      Clearly not…

      “…a 1000Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) based broadband network to RURAL PARTS of the Ards Peninsula.”

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Troll, I think he is referring specifically to RD’s comments

    4. Avatar Mark says:

      I guess only you and your alternative guise would know whos comments you are talking tosh about.

      PPS….. You still need to get a job and leave the house.

  4. Avatar RD says:

    Looking back to the WW2 era and BT i was always told BT had one of the biggest workforces in the UK at the time.They could of did anything compared to the smaller workforce BT have these days.And all of that money went into the peoples pockets rather than shareholders and Livingstone and his almost 10m per year! Then some idiot decided to sell of the network for pennies, and since then they workforce has been decimated, profits have soared and the UK has fallen to something like 10th in the world rankings?

    the money is much better spent working as a rival to BT rather than supplimenting them.BT are a private owned companys geared up for profit first and foremost.So why are they in charge of our infanstructure? If the Goverment started to invest all the money into a rival non profit B4RN style network with the help of farmers and land owners they could slowly roll out 1GB across the UK and send a clear signal to BT that they either have to step up to the ball as the UK needs a better solution than BT to rival Asia.

    How long do you think it would take BT to gather up enough money to start FTTP over FTTC once they know the gravy train taxpayer funded FTTC rollout game was up? Not very long i can bet you.You wont hear anything from the Goverment though as after this i bet half of them end up with consultation jobs at BT for the help in the heist.

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