Fast fibre: A community shows the way


Lancashire leads way on fast fibre connection

How fast is your home broadband? Seventy to 80 Mbps if you're one of the few with the very fastest fibre broadband services? Perhaps 10Mbps if you've got an average connection, maybe under 2Mbps if you live some miles from your nearest exchange. So how would you fancy a 500Mbps download scheme?

That is what I've seen on Harry Ball's quite ancient computer - not in the heart of London but in a village in rural Lancashire. Arkholme is hardly a teeming metropolis but Harry is one of the first local residents to be hooked up to the B4RN community broadband network.

After deciding that they were never likely to get a fast broadband connection from one of the major suppliers, a group of local people across this sparsely populated area decided that sitting around moaning about it was not an option. Instead they began a DIY effort, digging channels across the fields and laying fibre optic cables.


They have exploited all sorts of local expertise - from the Lancaster University professor who is an expert in computer networks to the farmer's wife who has just retired from a career in IT support. The cooperation of local landowners has been vital - free access to fields has made it much cheaper to roll out the network. BT and other companies which have to dig up the country roads to lay fibre networks reckon it can cost as much as £10,000 to hook up one rural home - the people at B4RN reckon they can bring that down to around £1,000.

B4RN team

And people like Harry and Susan Ball are now entering the superfast broadband era. The retired couple told me they knew little about computers and had got used to the fact that it was almost impossible on their slow connection to watch video or use Skype. Now Harry is able to watch the iPlayer streaming in HD, and Susan has become a B4RN volunteer, helping to dig trenches for the fibre.

But, after raising half a million pounds from locals who bought shares on the promise of a fast connection, the project now needs to move to the next stage. In the Arkholme village hall this afternoon, B4RN is holding an open day, inviting anyone to drop in and test the broadband connection on their phones or computers.

Fibre cables

The hope is that many will sign up to the £30 per month service, but that some will also buy shares in B4RN. Another £1.5m is needed if the full 265KM network is to be rolled out. That sounds ambitious - but having spent 24 hours watching the volunteers digging trenches, blowing fibre and learning a process called fusion splicing I can see they are a very determined bunch.

As Barry Forde, the networking expert who is the chief executive of B4RN explained to me, fast broadband is not a luxury now, whether in the town or the country. "Farmers are being told they have to fill in forms online," he says. "If you haven't got broadband you are severely disadvantaged."

And despite the £530m government money to bring fast broadband to rural Britain, many communities face a long wait to get connected. In the meantime, others may learn the lesson from B4RN - if you want it in a hurry, just get out and start digging.

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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    199 Graphis

    I take your broader point but, for what it's worth, a £12k per annum perpetuity in return for £1million up front isn't a wise investment: it's a 1.2% return - effectively a loss by the time you've factored in the cost of capital.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Cool, we would love that kind of speed we get 16mega doodies in Cumbria. Dunno what i would do with your faster speeds though. Way to go, how much was it each? £1000? How much a month? How many people have it now? Is there any spare? where did you get it from? I take it not from BT, though i guess you must have used some of their network. I don't know how it works :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    It is so refreshing to see people doing something positive about getting a service instead if wingeing that the taxpayers should pick up their bills. Well done the people of Arkholme!

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    On the issue of B4RN missing out on Government money, the problem is that this often comes with lots of clauses and that can make it even harder to reach the point they have, which is pretty amazing and are joining the select club of parts of the UK with Gigabit access.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    194. Miss Ingoff
    "assuming the revenues outweigh the costs"

    Not initially, I expect. If BT invested £1M to get £1K return a month, initially it doesn't look like a wise investment. But they'd be getting £1K a month, every month, indefinitely. Eventually, the revenue would far outweigh the costs. But they clearly don't see long-term.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    is this what David Cameron meant by the big society - D.I.Y.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    196 TheTakeleySocialist

    I agree that an entirely free market is seldom the best way of funding national infrastructure. You can't expect a commercial organisation to do anything other than maximise the wealth of its owners.

    However, you're wrong about who built the railways and the waterways. They were mostly commercial enterprises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    This in a way backs up Keynesian philosophy about the State investing in infrastructure.because capital will only invest where they can see profit and return.
    Think about it, the Governemnt built the railways, the waterways and our original copper telephone network to mention just a few.Capital today would just not be bothered to venture outside any major cities without a guaranteed return.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.


    B.T. own and maintain the Backbone Network all the others piggy back off it. So they will get profit from that.

    Also B.T. is now run on commercial lines. So they will go for the most profitable areas, just like the other operators. DIY solved the problem, this time, but what if it was in difficult mountainous terrain, not so easy

    Remember this when Royal Mail gets sold off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    192 Graphis

    A small net income (assuming the revenues outweigh the costs) is better than no income at all, but not as good as the larger net income they can earn for cabling up a more densely-populated area.

    In this case, BT presumably thought that it could wait until they'd finished picking the low-hanging fruit elsewhere. In this case, they were wrong!

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    What's stopping such a project is the prospect of market share.Who ever carried out such a project would no doubt have a monopoly and the Governemnt would not allow it.
    The industry in that sense is so tentative.Sky would end up being a broadcaster and not a provider.Which in the long run I think will happen anyway.It's all about Bandwidth now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Very, very shortsighted of BT and the other big businesses not to offer connections to rural communities... now these (and other) people have shown that not only are they getting a far superior service than anything the other ISPs can offer, but BT etc will never earn a single penny from them in future either.
    Surely a small income would have been better than none at all?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    This is what money should be spent on not new railway lines like HS2.

    If any progress towards protecting the environment is actually delivered then removing the need of 90% of workers to commute is it.

    Well done everybody concerned!

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    @Gogsy You'd be surprised what skills lurk within a community.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I've been getting more and more worried about monopolisation and big business driving little ones into bankruptcy.
    I'm really inspired by these people. Big business said "no, not enough profit" and they've given them the two fingered salute and done it themselves. Absolutely fantastic; I'd love to see more of the same across lots of different business areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    The mind of a politician:

    £17bn for foriegn aid
    £60bn for Iraq War
    £400bn for reckless bankers

    All good stuff.

    £28bn for Fibre To The Home 100% coverage

    Very bad, must not do, people not worthy, only select few must be allowed this special privilege.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Well done B4RN. Unfortunately it requires folks who really know IT infrastructure which not every community has. Also the connection at the end is a real issue. I live only about a mile from the BT fibre and asked if they could give me a price for installing FTTH as they are not aiming to extend the FTTC network to my more remote property; they were not at all interested so stuck with 2Mb/s!

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    No doubt Labour will invent "broadband poverty", come up with a plan to tax people who work heavily, add it to their array of 2015 vote bribes at the next election and then waste the money handing out massive contracts to some union or other and nothing will change at all. With full BBC support of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    Anything is better than the "spooling 2mbps if I am lucky" speed I get in North Wales. I am only 2 miles from the exchange but I might aswell be in another galaxy!

    It is interesting that whenever I call my service provider to complain they tap a few keys on their computer on the other end of the phone line and my speed suddenly improves!!!....albeit up to 3mbps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    If the government are paying out £530m, then why can't this community get a share of that money? Oh I forgot its going to big business. The ones that take their cut and whatevers left is then maybe spent on what its supposed to be for.


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