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New UK Research Paper on Delivering Faster Rural Broadband

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 (3:36 pm) - Score 1,450

A new research paper from Northumbria University has been published that details two examples of rural broadband connectivity schemes operating in Cumbria (England). The paper shows how adopting more innovative business models can successfully bring superfast broadband to some of the world’s most isolated areas.

The paper – ‘Fibre to the Countryside: A Comparison of Public and Community Initiatives in the UK‘ – focuses on two familiar community-led and public (state aid) supported initiatives. Both have been used to deliver “full fibre” (FTTH) and fibre based FTTC/P “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) or faster ISP networks in the rural county of Cumbria.

The first example centres around B4RN’s community funded and built 1Gbps Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) network, which hopefully needs no introduction. Meanwhile the second example similarly looks at one of the many public-private partnership based projects between Openreach (BT) and local authorities (Connecting Cumbria), which is supported by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme.

Over the years we’ve written at length about the pros and cons of both approaches. In that sense there’s nothing terribly new for seasoned broadband watchers in this paper, but if you’re not as familiar with the market then this might be a good place to start your research.

Lecturer Paolo Gerli, Northumbria University, said:

“Our research studied both approaches and demonstrates how the pioneering business models used in Cumbria can contribute to bringing superfast broadband to very remote communities which have been struggling with poor connectivity for two decades.

Whilst the rural digital divide remains an unsolved issue across developed and developing countries, by analysing the interplay between community-led initiatives and public-private partnerships, this research provides useful recommendations for policymakers and practitioners committed to providing everyone with fast connectivity and dealing with the roll-out of rural broadband.”

Paolo Gerli and Professor Jason Whalley, based at Northumbria University’s Newcastle Business School, were recently in Washington DC where they presented their research at the prestigious 46th TPRC Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy. The paper itself was completed earlier this year.

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11 Responses
  1. Avatar AnotherTim says:

    A very interesting read. I’m glad that they picked up on the side effect of the BDUK value-for-money approach has had in leaving small pockets of properties with no hope of faster broadband in the foreseeable future – “the programme has exacerbated the divide within rural areas in terms of both access to and quality of broadband that is available to them”.
    I’ve seen this in my area, where Fastershire deliberately left small groups of properties on the outskirts of villages out of the FTTC roll-out as including them would have increased costs.
    If they hadn’t enabled any local properties we would have been able to get a community solution in place to cover all properties. By fragmenting the community it is no longer possible to afford a community solution for the remaining properties. Although some of these are in the plans for Gigaclear FTTP that won’t be in place for a few years yet (if there are no delays).

    1. Avatar Brian says:

      Seen the same issue here locally, FTTC to village centres leaving outlying properties with the same slow connections, but making the number non-viable for community led projects.

    2. Avatar James says:

      Could not agree with you more, we have had a number of issues with Fastershire over the years. They along with Gigaclear were supposed to be installing at the start of the year, this was pushed back to August and now September 23rd – guess what …… still waiting as there has been no digging at all so far and we are nearly a month after the new delayed pushed back start date. Funnily enough they have now extended the completion date to Q4 2019

    3. Avatar Gordon says:

      Guess what Gigaclear have now moved it back again to sometime in December…pathetic again!

  2. Avatar A_Builder says:

    This was always rather the problem with the rural FTTC approach – it actually made very little long term sense.

    In cities the density and uptake was likely to make FTTC a good stepping stone.

    Because FTTC was never deployed with any real inanition of it being integrated in FTTP or being used to serve FTTP deployments we are essentially in a position where, either there are going to be FTTC islands or the crazy spectacle of overbuilding £1.6Bn (or whatever the current number is and lets not start a debate on the gain share……….pleeeeeeeaseeee) of BDUK funded FTTC. It is nuts.

  3. Avatar chris conder says:

    says it all really… “the government gave the job of putting this process into practice to relatively low paid Council officials, with limited expertise who were then completely outsourced by outmanoeuvred, by well-paid experts from BT.” – what we have said all along, the snake oil salesmen have ruined digitalbritain. well worth reading the report.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      That’s a comment from a councillor, not the conclusion of the report. Didn’t many councils use well paid consultants to work on the projects?

    2. Avatar Fastman says:

      unhelpful one side view of the world as ever

      B4RN way or no way seems to be the view as ever

  4. Avatar Barry Forde says:

    Its interesting that some misconceptions keep cropping up and there are here too. The main one is the idea that volunteers do most of the digging for free. They don’t! We pay a rate per metre for every metre dug and this can be either in cash or shares. Contractors want cash, landowners want a mix of cash and shares, community volunteers usually take shares but some want cash. But the point is the cost to B4RN is the same no matter who does the digging, we don’t get it for free. These days about 90% of the digging is done by contractors or the landowners rather than community volunteers.
    Where the volunteers are absolutely vital isn’t the digging but the linkage with the community, identifying who owns which fields, getting them to support the project with wayleaves, getting them to invest and etc. There is no way that that can be done by any outside company, it has to come from the community to work! The secret to B4RN’s success is this community involvement that allows us to get support from the landowners with free wayleaves, and much more importantly, vastly valuable advice on how to route our duct. The landowners know every inch of their land and can point us at where mole ploughing will work and where it would take dynamite to get through. Thats what keeps the costs down.

    1. Avatar Fastman says:


      comments as such from members ? beneficiaries of your project such as says it all really… “the government gave the job of putting this process into practice to relatively low paid Council officials, with limited expertise who were then completely outsourced by outmanoeuvred, by well-paid experts from BT.” – what we have said all along, the snake oil salesmen have ruined digitalbritain. well worth reading the report.

      do absolutely nothing for your project or its perception and actually massively detract from its success (right fit in the right location)

      but it will never be the answer to every problem in the UK

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