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Barry Forde – CEO of Pioneering Rural FTTP ISP B4RN to Retire

Monday, November 9th, 2020 (10:31 am) - Score 1,584
b4rn barry forde outside ftth cabinet

The founder and CEO of UK rural “full fibre” broadband ISP B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North), Barry Forde MBE, has this morning announced that he intends to retire by the end of this year. The provider’s Board is currently overseeing the ongoing process of appointing a successor.

The provider, which has been busy building a gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to rural homes since 2012, is registered as a Community Benefit Society (i.e. it can’t be bought by a commercial operator and profits are distributed back into the community) and can reach into some very remote parts of Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Yorkshire.

B4RN is also partly funded by local communities, which volunteer their time and exchange free wayleaves (e.g. access over farm land) in order to help physically build the new fibre infrastructure (volunteers on soft digs through fields etc.). As a result, their full fibre network has been able to reach into locations where it might otherwise have been considered too expensive for a normal commercial operator.

As it stands today B4RN have already connected well over 7,300 properties to their network and their current footprint “under build” is around 30,000 properties (many due for completion within 12 months). After that the future aim is to reach 40,000 properties passed by 31st March 2022 and possibly c.70,000 by 2025/26.

Barry has been one of the most significant driving forces behind the provider, which no doubt helped it to succeed in areas where others have failed. Part of that is due to his long history in broadband and network management, which has seen him hold various senior roles in the CLEO network, LUNS Ltd, Lancaster University (head of networking) and more. He was even awarded an MBE in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours for his work.

Statement from B4RN’s Directors:

“Barry has lived B4RN night and day for more than ten years, in the course of which he has enjoyed its triumphs and shouldered the burdens associated with leading a maturing and unique enterprise. Barry will continue to enjoy the future growth and development of B4RN free from the responsibilities that come with the management of any company seeking to flourish.”

The Board has emphasised that, in seeking to find a new CEO, they are looking for someone who understands B4RN’s community ethos and the role the company plays in the parishes it serves. Replacing Barry will not be any easy task and, in many ways, this feels like the end of an era, albeit one where B4RN should continuing shining brightly into the future. A beacon of lit fibre for the digitally disadvantaged.

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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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17 Responses
  1. Avatar Scott says:

    B4RN and it’s supporters are an absolute credit to the rural community. Well done to Barry for creating and realising this superb idea. Enjoy retirement.

  2. Avatar David Stamp says:

    Scott – I 100% agree with you.

  3. Avatar Tyeth Gundry says:

    B4RN is an inspiration to us all, 100% agreement here

  4. Avatar mike Kiely says:

    Congrats Barry – demonstrating the possibilities has in no small way pushed the whole UK towards full fibre. This announcement comes on same day as the latest PAC inquiry into Broadband (the 8th) seeking completion of works begun in 2012.

  5. Avatar chris conder says:

    Barry is #digitalbritain, if the government had listened to him in the first place they wouldn’t have wasted all that time and money on FTTC. He’s a genius, but he’s already built a fantastic team to keep things going forward in B4rnland.

    Many communities will always be grateful for what he’s done. He’s gone the extra mile.

    He’s built a network of people as well as machines, and the most affordable 10 gig symmetrical connection in the country… (which he’s now a customer of himself)

    Congratulations on your retirement Barry, from all your community. xxx

    1. Avatar NGA for all says:

      BARN stands on its own. While much of the FTTC work can be seen as interim the ongoing scrutiny has meant BT is paying back most of the FTTC at some point. BDUK’s has a lasting legacy in 500k FTTP rural, and another 250k under contract for FTTP and a capacity for another 500-600k in rural England if it can be contracted.

      BT Group have made big mistakes at the expense of Openreach, but most of that is now at their own cost.

      Barry should be proud of pushing matters along and demonstrating what is possible. There is still much to do in the North West (~120k premises) so I hope the wherewithal for a another contract placing can be found.

    2. Avatar M says:

      Don’t forget it all started with a community based wireless network.

      Wireless opened the doors for many and produced the community champions.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      No time or money was wasted on fttc, it is doing its job and will do for years. Once again missing then point.

      Congratulations to Barry was all that’s was needed.

      Well done Barry, it is a great legacy to leave behind you should be very proud.

  6. Avatar A_Builder says:

    Fantastic work Barry: I very much admire you for what you have done thought detailed technical knowledge grit and determination.

    I do agree that B4RN did show the way things could and should be done in rural and exposed some of the costing fallacies that the big guns were perpetuating. This did give a kick to the whole national FTTP rollout particularly when the smaller commercial players started to pick up the baton and found that it was investable.

    Have a happy and relaxing retirement.

  7. Avatar John Barry says:

    He should be made Sir Barry for his work.

    This type of person with drive, dedication and commitment should be put in charge of Openreach.

    1. Avatar MartinConf says:

      Thats like asking him to climb Everest!!!!!

    2. Avatar A_Builder says:

      Nominate him!

      Anyone can nominate for an honour. And as there has been a defined and visible community benefit it stands a decent chance.

      When you’ve done the nomination – post the link so we can all give him the send off he deserves.

    3. Avatar Fastman says:

      studid comment frankly

      have ever met CEO of Openreach ?

    4. Avatar A_Builder says:

      “ studid comment frankly

      have ever met CEO of Openreach ?”

      I’m not sure what OR has got to do with this?

      B4RN is a Community Interest setup. OR is a large commercial incumbent that for a long time said “too difficult” on days with an R in them and “too expensive” the rest.

      B4RN got off their backsides and did something for themselves without the ability to borrow £Bn.

      So I don’t think it is a stupid comment in the context of – that is what the honours system is actually for. Mrs ‘Jones’ from the WI who gets a gong for something she did for the community, great.

  8. Avatar TheTruth says:

    Probably explains why he got the 10Gbps link installed into his house before he made this announcement 😉

    Barry you now have all the speed you need to enjoy your retirement.

  9. Avatar David J Bland says:

    Every now and again in the IT world, someone comes along and re-writes the rule book. Barry is one of the very few. If he’d come from a traditional telecom industry background he would never have pulled this off. Too many vested interests.

    But to recognise that a wide area rural broadband network was not much different from a campus LAN — albeit with longer distances and a little more effort needed to lay fibre — was transformative.

    Back in 2012 I would never have put money on this working long term — not at the ludicrous 1 Gig for £30 rate — but the B4RN team did. And, to coin a Frank Sinatra song, they did it ‘their way’.

    So enjoy the recognition from HM, enjoy your 10 Gig broadband, but most of all enjoy your retirement.

    1. Avatar A_Builder says:

      “ But to recognise that a wide area rural broadband network was not much different from a campus LAN — albeit with longer distances and a little more effort needed to lay fibre — was transformative.”

      In all fairness this was also the insight that Hyperoptic had. Although they used Cat5/6 for the last drop at least in the early days.

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