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B4RN Fear 10Mbps UK Broadband USO May Hamper Rural FTTH Rollout

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017 (8:27 am) - Score 2,609

The boss of rural ISP B4RN, which is rolling out a 1Gbps community-built and funded fibre optic (FTTH) broadband network to homes in Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, has warned that the UK Gov’s proposed 10Mbps USO may force them to “retrench within our current boundaries.”

B4RN has been a wonderful success story. The Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, which encourages local volunteers to help build their network (often in exchange for shares instead of cash) and thus fosters strong take-up, has connected 3,800 live properties in some of England’s most isolated rural communities. At this rate (c.150 new connections per month) the operator could reach around 5,000 connections by next summer 2018 and their total coverage area is already about 2,000Km2.

Overall the operator has either finished or has civil engineering work underway in 75 parishes, which is largely funded by around £4.5 million in shares and £2.5 million via loans from community members (build costs average about £700/property). B4RN has also hired 24 members of staff, including its own civil engineering team, and more are expected to be added over the coming year.

In fact 2017/2018 is expected to be first year where they are cash flow positive and as a result 2018-2019 could mark the start of their ability to return cash to the community, as well as repaying investors and loans.

Going forwards, B4RN’s recent expansion into Norfolk and Suffolk (here) could also help to pave the way for them to reach 300 new connections per month next year. However the operator’s CEO, Barry Ford, has warned that this is very dependent upon what the Government decides with respect to the proposed 10Mbps minimum broadband speed via a new Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Speaking at INCA’s recent conference, Barry noted that “many more” parishes were “waiting in the wings” to join their network but he added that B4RN were “holding back to see how USO plays out … if badly then we will retrench within our current boundaries” (i.e. reducing costs or spending on their future deployment plans).

We have ask Barry whether he could clarify what, in B4RN’s view, would be a good or bad outcome to the USO and are awaiting his reply. At present it’s widely expected that the USO would, outside of Hull (KCOM’s domain), need to be implemented across the UK by Openreach (BT) and this will focus on the final 2% of premises that are not due to benefit from the current rollout of “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) networks via Broadband Delivery UK.

The exact technology and funding measure will depend upon the final agreement and regulatory stance, although some of the proposed solutions could deliver speeds that are nearly or a little better than “superfast“. This seems unlikely to drive people off B4RN’s existing network but it could make their proposition harder to sell into new areas, although we suspect that many would still go for a cheap 1Gbps service rather than a dated hybrid fibre option with significantly slower speeds.

Customers of B4RN’s service typically pay just £30 inc. VAT per month (plus a £150 one-off connection fee) in order to access an unlimited symmetrical connection that runs at speeds of up to 1000Mbps on a monthly contract term, which is just about the most affordable 1Gbps service in market (short of TalkTalk’s 940Mbps package on the Cityfibre built FTTH network in York).

Competition concerns over the proposed USO are of course nothing new, although so far we’ve mostly only heard back from larger providers (here). Now for a few more details on B4RN’s current network (extracted from Barry’s recent INCA speech)..

b4rn network 2017

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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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46 Responses
  1. Avatar AndyH says:

    LR-VDSL is off the cards:

    Openreach have announced that following their Industry Consultation in the summer, they have considered the feedback and have decided that they are no longer considering using Long Reach VDSL to deliver any Universal Service Obligation for Broadband.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Is that confirmed in writing somewhere public? Last I heard future trial deployments were paused and the tech was under review. Could be more expensive to deliver without LRVDSL.

    2. Avatar AndyH says:

      It should be on the Openreach site today I believe. There will be an update in a few weeks about what happens to end users already moved over to LR-VDSL.

      It’s not completely dead and buried as Openreach said they would have another consultation if they were to consider LR-VDSL again, however it’s certainly dead in terms of the USO now.

    3. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      I’m a littler surprised in that I would have thought it might have a place where there is no LLU presence via a cabinet, or where it didn’t meet some threshold speed. That would cover a considerable number of cases with minimal threat to LLU operator revenues. I suppose even if there was no LLU, then all existing users of BTW ADSL services would have to be moved across to equivalent LR-VDSL services at, presumably, at some capped and discounted rate to reflect.

      That would also involve equipment swap-out at the customer premises , increased cabinet capacity and some potential issues with ISPs reselling BTW-ADSL services as there’s a lot to co-ordinate.

      Perhaps, after all this is considered, it was not worth the effort not to mention the potential for disruptive tactics by some ISPs in the principle…

    4. Avatar 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G) says:

      On Openreach site today

    5. Avatar MikeW says:

      If LR-VDSL is off the table, then presumably BT’s offer for the USO just went in the bin too.

    6. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      Can anyone post a link please to the Openreach update on LR-VDSL? I can’t seem to find it..

    7. Avatar Ultraspeedy says:

      “If LR-VDSL is off the table, then presumably BT’s offer for the USO just went in the bin too.”

      Were they not going to use other technology like satellite services they do not have?

  2. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Why would it hamper anything, if B4RN have a better product that people want, they will buy it?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Reality and market or human decision dynamics are not always that simple, otherwise everybody would have switched to the best network for their area long ago but that’s not how it always works out. This would need a 2-3 page article to fully elaborate on and it would be quite a boring read.

    2. Avatar dragoneast says:

      Basically it’s that other people’s priorities and view of what is best for them doesn’t always coincide with that of the “experts” as to what it should be, isn’t it? Fortunately.

    3. Avatar James Blessing says:

      Mostly because some people will want to deal with a “proper ISP” rather than a community project (no matter how well it’s run). There was a housing estate that was built with FTTH at a very reasonable price and the residents complained that they couldn’t get BT based FTTC… (I think there is an ISPR story on it somewhere)

    4. Avatar CarlT says:

      I remember that. One of the comments in the article bemoaned not being able to shop around for the best deals and was a strange one given the writer was working from home at least part of the time.

      Cheap LLU has changed the national psyche for sure.

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I was of course being facetious. 🙂

      Competition really is a mess in this country now.

      People want:

      – Reliable broadband with a decent speed (decent being defined by the individual)
      – Low Price
      – The above available to all

      But in some areas this is now being hobbled by smaller telco’s wanting to protect their own pie, or… a pie that they may bake at some point in the future (but no guarantees there).

      How can this be allowed to happen? Let whomever can/will provide a service provide it. If others want to compete do so, but do not prevent people from getting a service they require to protect your own pockets.

  3. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    I would have thought that any USO responsibility which is imposed on an incumbent will have this effect if it is of sufficient speed. If a 10mbps USO would do this, then a 30mbps USO (as some want) would have even more of a freezing effect in this regard.

    I suppose a USO administered by an independent body which could commission its own solutions from a range of suppliers might avoid some of that, but that would need some serious public finance money.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      You’d also still have to find ISPs, other than BTOR and KCOM, that would be willing to take on the legal and / or financial responsibility.

    2. Avatar occasionally factual says:

      So we have yet another ISP now wanting to stop consumers getting the USO.
      It is really all whinge, whinge, whinge from all of the Openreach/KCOM competitors. They wont put up the money but expect someone else to do it but in a way which only makes them money and not BT.
      So glad I don’t have to buy my services from these companies whose disregard for the customer is so blatant.

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      In fairness. You could probably level that accusation against TalkTalk, Sky etc. that are big commercial companies and which have made a living by piggybacking off Openreach. However B4RN are a community / social enterprise, where the money they make goes back into the community.

      Essentially they are just stating the reality about how a USO might impact them, but they aren’t actively lobbying to block it and don’t yet know how they’ll be impacted until the final design is known.

    4. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      @Mark

      I’m suggesting the alternative would be a statutory body which would have the legal responsibility for the USO and would commission the most suitable suppliers to fulfil it. That’s where the serious amounts of public finance would be required, whether raised through an industry levy or general taxation.

      Personally I suspect such system would be immensely cumbersome as it’s not well suited to vast numbers of individual requests. The BDUK approach of “fill in” by communities is more efficient off which, maybe, the operator of whatever network so commissioned would be charged with the USO responsibility.

      I should add that, in hindsight, perhaps some thought could have going into including USO responsibilities as part of individual BDUK contracts in the first place, although that was probably always tricky, would have increased tender prices (if they were received at all if there was an open-ended USO requirement).

    5. Avatar occasionally factual says:

      @mark
      That is why I said “yet another ISP” as TT, Sky, Vodafone etc are all just as culpable in using their influence in high places to ensure that the less fortunate consumers are going to be disadvantaged for as long as possible. All to line their pockets.
      And I think publishing articles is trying to influence, I’m sure that some MPs would love to use this article (and others of its type) to beat up on Openreach.
      So we’ll agree to disagree.

  4. Avatar MikeW says:

    Oh what a tangled web we weave…
    when we force false competition into a market to give the impression of cheap prices.

  5. Avatar richard says:

    Bt infinity are a joke ,all countries around europe are getting faster and faster broadband speeds by the year,i haVE BEEN STUCK ON BT INFINITY 80/MB/S FOR THE LAST LAST 6 OR 7 YRS,I’M 53YRS OLD ,BY THE TIME OUR COUNTRY CATCHES UP I WILL BE DEAD!and why do all the farmers lol need such fast speed?always up north or in boring areas they get chosen huh?for ftth etc,i thought i would be on 1 or 2 gb speed by now pfft,our country is a joke for fast internet !

    1. Avatar AndyH says:

      And you need a 1 or 2 Gig connection?

    2. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Imagine being ‘stuck’ on 80Mbps.

      Shame.

    3. Avatar Guy Cashmore says:

      I’d be delighted with 80! Here we get 2 Mbps on a good day, 1 Mbps when it’s raining and 0 Mbps for a couple of hours most days, reason unknown..

    4. Avatar Tim says:

      I’m older than you, and I work from home as a software developer – I need a fast internet connection. I’m dreaming of the day when I can get anything close to 80Mbps. Most in my area cope with 2-3Mbps. My neighbours are farmers who have to spend hours filling in DEFRA forms – e.g. every animal movement has to be logged.
      Our area has been chosen for FTTP by our BDUK organization, but it won’t be here for 3 years (if at all – I expect the project to be cancelled or company to go bust before then).

    5. Avatar brian says:

      Richard please give details of why you need more than 80mbps? Genuinely interested.

    6. Avatar Carl T says:

      ‘Up north’ gets ignored for most other infrastructure resulting in a massive waste of human potential and a whole lot of completely unnecessary poverty. For them to get some crumbs tossed to them every once in a while is only fair.

  6. Avatar richard says:

    Don’t shame me ,uk internet is junk! no i don’t need 1gb or 2gb ,but at least 200 or 300mb/s with 100mb/s upload at least would be good for my home business ,no way would i get virgin media junk ,worst provider in the uk by a mile,they are con merchants with customer service who work in prison cells ,well it seems like it lol

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      There are packages available to meet your requirements (if they are real).

      You just need to pay for it. 🙂

    2. Avatar AndyH says:

      ADSLMax?

    3. Avatar David Stamp says:

      Gigabit FTTP is the best way to future-proof any UK community for some years to come…

    4. Avatar Ultraspeedy says:

      [admin note: comment removed, please avoid personal attacks against other posters]

    5. Avatar Andrew says:

      Richard. It seems farming is not a home business especially “up north”.

    6. Avatar Mike says:

      If you do not like the speeds in the UK or the companies and you think is all “junk” feel free to leave the country for better. You will never have to have an outburst on here again.

  7. Avatar David Stamp says:

    I am a B4RN user and part of our Barbon + Middleton parishes community project to install our own Gigabit FTTP connectivity. We are approaching a 75% ‘connected to B4RN’ target by early 2018.

    As such I can state several things:

    1 – Barry Forde is 100% correct in all his observations

    2 – BT and the other main ISPs have little interest in rural communities unless arm-twisted into doing something (where they anyway get big tax-payer subsidies to do what they should have done in the first place)

    3 – The UK is a joke on the global broadband performance chart – almost a third world country. Brexit or no Brexit, we need a world-class Gigabit minimum FTTP nationwide service to compete with the EU, America, China and all the rest

    4 – Relying on ‘Victorian Age’ Copper based broadband delivery systems is unbelievable in the 21st century

    5 – Why do farmers need good broadband connectivity someone else commented? Get real – farmers have extensive online DEFRA filing to do, company accounts and lots of other stuff – just try doing all that on a BT copper delivery system that in rural areas can often give you 0 Mbps!

    6 – Rural broadband is vital in rural areas for several reasons – (A) to keep young families living in such areas, (B) Sustain and attract small/medium businesses to locate in rural areas (hence better employment prospects), plus (C) to support both the farming community AND anyone else that decides to live in rural areas

    As I said at the start of this comment – I use B4RN and am certain that few will move away from having the UK’s best community Gigabit broadband to future-proof their lives…

    I encourage others throughout the UK to consider starting their own community rural broadband FTTP project. B4RN has gone from 0 to 3,800 properties taking service since 2011. All driven by local volunteers, farmers, pensioners and others that just want a decent reliable broadband service

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      I suspect the difficulty for many areas is them being a sufficient size for a cost effective project and being able to recruit sufficient volunteers with experience and able to stick with it. Not everywhere has a ‘Barry’!

      Down in Somerset Truespeed are building where there is a 30% signup for a particular area.

      Funding a world-class Gigabit minimum FTTP nationwide service is still the main issue.

    2. Avatar B4RNY says:

      Well said David. JFDI

    3. Avatar CarlT says:

      Think housing that isn’t insanely expensive might be a tad more important in retaining youth in rural areas.

      If this connectivity is so needed and so used wonder if you could explain B4RN’s speed test results on Think Broadband?

  8. Avatar brian says:

    Don’t get it? Thought everyone needed Tbps speed and be able to stream 1000 hd movies at the same time.

    Barn is suggesting that there may be some people out there that actually don’t care about speed. Which is strange given their spokesperson is regularly on this site decrying fttc speeds.

    1. Avatar B4RNY says:

      I’m a bit long in the tooth, but I like to think I’ll be right there with the first Skype holographic person to person broadband call. But in the meantime, I am basking in the pure unadulterated pleasure of being one of the B4RN shareholder subscribers who own their own hyperfast connectivity and have no responsibility for anybody else’s pension deficit.

    2. Avatar Mike says:

      LOL B4RNY 🙂

    3. Avatar Ann Sheridan says:

      It does seem odd because as a B4RN local champion that is not our experience on the ground. In our Parish we have a 70% take up by properties who cannot access BT Infiniti. We’re just moving into parts of the Parish which can access BT infiniti, and despite BT throwing the kitchen sink at prospective B4RN customers, we’ll easily have a 30% take up because our service is cheaper, more reliable, and our customer service about a million times better.

  9. Avatar David Stamp says:

    For obvious reasons I 100% agree with both B4RNY and Ann Sheridan.

    For those that have not seen B4RN and the volunteers in each parish ‘in action’ to Do It Themselves in a very professional manner, do come up and visit us one day soon.

    Recently the B4RN community rural broadband project has been featured on ‘The Yorkshire Dales and The Lakes’ on More4 TV (Summer 2017 – hopefully will be mrepeated early 2018), plus in the last week on an Australian TV programme about their own broadband issues…

    #JFDI #B4RN #SiliconLuneValley #SiliconFields

    1. Avatar CarlT says:

      In an urban area where we can’t rely on a load of private landowners to give free wayleave through verges and fields to get to properties sadly.

  10. Avatar ray Newport says:

    Where’s the picture from?

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