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

Monday, Jul 29th, 2013 (2:05 am) - Score 1,515

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.

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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