DIY fibre broadband

 
Fibre optics

In rural Britain there is a growing impatience about the wait for superfast broadband. The Countryside Alliance voiced that last week with its revelations that work had yet to start on the government's fast broadband pilots.

But some people aren't sitting back and waiting - they're doing it themselves. Today comes news of an initiative from one of the more remote parts of the countryside, where people are clubbing together to give themselves the kind of broadband connections that would look respectable in South Korea, never mind South London.

The B4RN project aims to bring 1Gb/s broadband to homes in the Trough of Bowland and the Lune Valley, sparsely populated parts of Lancashire, North Yorkshire and Cumbria, where BT is unlikely to be laying fibre optic cables.

At an event in Lancaster this afternoon, the B4RN campaigners, mostly local farmers, will launch their not-for-profit company and a share issue designed to fund it.

Seven hundred people have already registered an interest in paying £30 a month to have their homes hooked up to a new fibre network. But the campaign reckons it needs to raise £1.86m to buy the ducting through which the fibre will be laid, and train local people to install the network.

Hence the share issue, where people will be invited to subscribe from £100 to £20,000, with £1,500 also guaranteeing a free service for the first 12 months.

The only reason I know about this is due to the efforts of one woman, the extraordinary Chris Conder. A farming grandmother from Wray in Lancashire, Chris is one of the most innovative and energetic users of social media I know.

Whether it's a stream of tweets from her @cyberdoyle account, or YouTube videos illustrating the progress of the B4RN project, she is tireless in her campaign to tell the world that the countryside needs fast fibre broadband. Politicians, regulators, the broadband industry and journalists have all been bombarded with messages from @cyberdoyle.

She's also something of a fibre fanatic - try telling her that satellite or 4G or any number of other technologies might be a more economic way of filling in the gaps in broadband coverage, and you'll get short shrift.

But that kind of energy and certainty has helped to galvanise a community which now has a chance to put itself in the fast lane while other areas wait for government-funded schemes to come up with the goods.

Chris Conder's slogan is JFDI - which, she tells me, stands for "Just Farmers Doing It". Now we will find out whether the farmers and other locals really are willing to put their money on the line to hook themselves up to a fast broadband future.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 22.

    I greatly admire what you're trying to do here but what's wrong with the simpler, cheaper, tried and tested alternatives that are already available such a satellite or 3G boosters? Not to mention the fact by the time you do get a workable solution up and running 4G will be firmly on the horison.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 21.

    I think this a great project and i think with all the farmers and landlords on board a lot of the normal costs will be avoided, sorting out wayleaves can need an army of project managers... i think the tricky part will be when they have fibre cuts. Having a Optical time-domain reflectometer (otdr) and someone who knows how to use it at 3am is always hard..

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    love all the -ve noise: it's too tricky, costly, not for the likes of you etc.
    Technology is meant to liberate, what u going to do?
    Full marks to the team, I'm sure they'd rather the gov looked after the infrastructure of this country, but at least they're doing something, instead of winging.
    BTW fibre comms is ~ trivial: if they can't do it, god help Britain!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    I find it sad that whenever someone shows some inititative there will always be people trying to belittle their efforts. Chris, just go for it. We could use more people with a positive attitude!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    re. #7.PAJ wrote: "Really? The future of broadband relies on some random untrained locals carrying out a highly technical fibre cable installation."

    It's amazing what "locals" can learn to do when motivated. The British Army learned that at Concord, when will you?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    Captain, writing a comment on a blog post is 'engaging in social media'. Welcome to our world. ;)

    Thanks BluesBerry and Elaine and all the other people who have written words of support for us. Much appreciated. I am replying for the whole team. Thank You all and thanks again Rory. x

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 16.

    Broadband in rural areas always attracts commuters, or those chasing the work from home dream. Before you know it the pub, the school and the shop will be gone, and you'll be using a marginal bus service to see your kids because they can't afford to live in your village.

    Sorry to be negative, but think before you leap.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 15.

    Always sad to hear of anyone who's an 'energetic user of social media'. Is there no branch of life now that's immune from this insidious and corrosive scourge?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 14.

    Good your you Chris!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 13.

    Yeah,yeah heard it all before about these poor souls living in rural areas! I'm guessing quite a few commutte to some very nice well heeled city jobs, and perhaps there are others in an alternative bracket! But hey-ho superfast broadband DIY....Listen I can see GLASGOW roof tops from my sons window, our broadband speed is 0.25mps!! NOT JUST RURAL!!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 12.

    It'll certainly be an interesting experiment in many ways. It relies on a lot of volunteer input, installers / diggers willing to wait 2 or 3 years to be paid via "B shares", not paying landowners for wayleaves, assorted tax loopholes, some tight budgets (£50k pa for total labour cost) and some eye watering accuracy of budgeting (bank balance at end of year a few grand on a few million budget).

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 11.

    @ PAJ the whole thing was set up and designed by experts who have done this type of system before on a larger scale. Experts are in place to connect the system who do this for a living and train BT/Virgin engineers how it's done!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 10.

    If the farmers get together to dig their own ducts then all the hard work is done. The installation of fibre optic cable is not costly, but what they will have to look out for is the backhaul costs of ethernet to a data centre so they can peer with service providers and gain Internet access. Good luck to them

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    Though I have no vested interest, I could not help but read this story about the farming grandmother from Wray, Chris Conder, who has shown such passion for the B4RN project.
    Chris, I am all the way over here in Canada, & I have heard your message. My thoughts are with you, as are my wishes for success.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    7 PAJ
    I imagine it's more a case of the locals handling the non technical parts where feasible ("the string"), and then buying in the necessary expertise to "tie on the tin cans". I'm all for it.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 7.

    Really? The future of broadband relies on some random untrained locals carrying out a highly technical fibre cable installation. You might as well just buy some string and tie some tin cans on each end, it would be cheaper and more reliable!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 6.

    We are just off to the launch of B4RN this afternoon. We don't get much mobile phone coverage, and only tiny spots of 3G now and again. We barely get any freeview channels and broadband is just a tiny bit faster than dial-up most of the time so this is an exciting initiative. We may not, as shareholders, get our money back, but as owners of a small business, it will reap dividends for us.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 5.

    You have to wonder why laying down the cable is so expensive in the first place, I think I remember the cost was estimated at £21,000,000,000 to put fibre to the home a couple of years back.

    So what exactly is the cost paying? How many things in that cost can be cut? Do we really need £1500 a day consultants telling the more experienced engineers to do what they already know?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 4.

    What's in it for the shareholders (other than getting broadband)? Is this expected to pay off as a realistic investment (and if so, how), or is 'shareholder' basically a euphemism for 'donor'?

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 3.

    I live in the B4RN area, although sadly not in the first phase. I have been supporting this project for some time now. Although the words like "gigabit", "hyperfast" and "fibre optic" are very eye catching and while important, I think the most important and unique aspect of this project is the word "community"

    People are pulling together in this community for this common cause.

 

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