Lancashire Volunteers Dig For 1Gbps Broadband Victory

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Hundreds of residents fed up with waiting for fibre broadband have begun digging their own fibre trench

In an effort to tackle the problems of rural broadband, one group of volunteers have opted to take matters into their own hands and dig for superfast broadband victory.

On a cold and windy Saturday 31 March, around 100 volunteers and their spades gathered in a field Quernmore, in North Lancashire, to begin digging trenches that will allow them to bring a 1Gbps fibre connection to their homes and villages for £30 per month, and a one-off connection fee of £150.

B4RN Project

The event and work was organised by the B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) project, a community-led company that makes use of investment by local residents, as well as volunteer labour to help dig the trenches the fibre cables will be laid in.

The promised 1Gbps network speed will trounce the superfast broadband speeds currently offered by BT and Virgin Media. The B4RN network will connect to Telecity in Manchester to gain access to the Internet backhaul.

Mayor of Lancaster launches b4rn broadband dig © Martyn DewsYoutube videos of the opening ceremony and the actual digging in action is available here, here and here.

The first sod on the first trench was turned by Councillor Paul Woodruff, Mayor of Lancaster, and also present was local MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, Eric Ollerenshaw.

Digital Divide

B4RN says that it is helping to bridge the digital divide and stop rural areas being stuck in the broadband slow lane.

“It’s been an emotional day,” said B4RN chief executive, Barry Forde, speaking at the open ceremony and who praised the efforts of local people. “This has been a long time in planning, and it’s fantastic finally to see the day arrive, especially as so many have tried to tell us this couldn’t be done.”

“People here know the big telecoms companies will never get round to providing them with decent internet connectivity, and it’s in the spirit of how people do things around here that they’ve just got on and done it themselves,” he said.

If the digging goes to schedule, and the weather is kind, the first houses and businesses should be connected to the network by June.

Ironically, just days after the opening dig ceremony for B4RN’s network, it was announced that BT had agreed to a £62.5 million deal to bring fibre to 97 percent of premises in Lancashire by 2014. It is not clear at the time of writing whether the BT deal will include the rural areas B4RN is targeting.

Rural Desperation

The building of the B4RN network however is a sign of the growing anger and desperation felt by many within rural and semi rural communities, who have become fed up with waiting for BT or the government to fund broadband connections to their rural location.

In December, the Countryside Alliance warned of the growing digital divide when it said there had been a “underwhelming” amount of progress in rolling out superfast broadband in rural areas.

So some communities are taking matters into their own hands and not waiting for BT or the paltry BDUK funding from the government.

In Cumbria for example the community broadband co-operative Cybermoor is looking for investors to expand the fibre broadband provision in Alston Moor in Cumbria. In November 2009, residents began digging their own trenches to help with the project, like their counterparts now in Lancashire.

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