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Lancashire Farmers Connected To DIY 1Gbps Fibre Network

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

The B4RN broadband project has connected its second village, with Arkholme farmers connecting to a 1 Gbps network

A DIY community project in rural Lancashire has now connected a second village to its own superfast broadband network.

This come after 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 are laid in, held an demonstration day in Arkholme village hall on Thursday, asking local residents to bring in their own devices and try their network.

DIY Superfast Broadband

TechweekEurope first covered B4RN back in April 2012, when it reported on the volunteers who had gathered with their spades in a field near Quernmore, in North Lancashire, to begin digging trenches for a 1Gbps fibre network.

Rural-Britain-2-largeThe idea was that local residents could connect to the FTTH network for £30 per month, and a one-off connection fee of £150.

The village of Quernmore was officially connected to the 1Gbps network in October, and now Arkholme is the second village to be connected to this superfast broadband network, which trounces the superfast broadband speeds currently offered by BT and Virgin Media.

Broadband Slowlane

Of course the major reason for the existence of projects like B4RN is the fact that BT and Virgin Media have decided that it is uneconomical to roll out fibre to large swathes of the UK, leaving millions of homes and businesses trapped in the broadband slow lane.

That said, the county of Lancashire was one of the first BDUK deals that BT won, which will see it bring fibre to 97 percent of premises in Lancashire by 2014.

Unlike BT however, the B4RN project makes use of local volunteers to dig the trenches, and gains free access to farmers fields to lay their fibre network. According to the BBC, BT and other network providers quote figures as much as £10,000 to hook up one rural home. However the B4RN project reckons it can do the same for a much more reasonable £1,000.

B4RN is aiming to get its FTTP broadband network rolled out to more rural communities in Lancashire (see map). So far the B4RN project has raised £500,000, but it now needs an additional £1.5m to deploy the full network.

This may be a tall order, especially in light of the recent cut in European funding for superfast broadband networks, and the fact that it is competing in some areas against the networks of BT and Virgin Media.

But there is little doubt that local community projects like this are vital, considering the fact BT and Virgin Media have chosen to mostly ignore rural Britain, unless they win BDUK and local council funding. Last September, the rural lobby group Country Land and Business Association (CLA) called for a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband in the UK, which would require providers like BT and Virgin Media to offer fast Internet access service everywhere.

“As one of the first (B4RN) customers all I can say is that the service is fantastic – no more waiting for the buffering to catch up. It just works, switch on and things load instantly. I can now watch iplayer in HD on the TV without a flicker. Fantastic.” Bruce Alexander of Quernmore is quoted as saying.

“The support of the local community has been key to B4RN’s success to date, and there are many people and businesses within the area who are earning their shares through sweat and labour as well as investing their money,” stated Professor Barry Forde, who is the chief executive of the B4RN project.

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