FTTH B4RN-raising in a fortnight
It has taken just three months for a privately-run 1Gbps symmetric rural broadband fibre to the home (FTTH) project to gain the support it needs to go live on 15 December.
B4RN (Broadband 4 the Rural North) already has 700 of the 622 home owners needed for the project to break even. At this rate, the project will quickly recover the estimated £2m start-up costs and be in a position to pay dividends, says one of the founders, local farmer and community wireless network operator Chris Conder.
The project will launch formally on 15 December. It is expected the first share prospectus will launch then too. It hopes to connect 1300 homes and more than 300 businesses in phase one of three.
Eight parishes in rural Lancashire will be linked via FTTH. These include Melling, Arkholme, Quernmore, Abbeystead, Wray, Tatham, Roeburndale, Wennington and Caton with Littledale.
The organisers have mapped routes to each home, and the project will accommodate every home. Those that don’t subscribe immediately just won’t be connected to start with, Conder says. “But they’ll join when they see what the neighbours are getting,” she says.
The initial services will be broadband internet and voice over IP for £30/month. The organisers plan to offer backhaul to mobile network operators and local businesses, e-health and content delivery of music, video and films, among others. This would be impossible or provided with unacceptable quality with BT’s planned broadband roll-out in the area.
B4RN had its genesis when Lancashire County Council reneged on a pledge to fund a smaller project, and went into a wide area network deal with BT.
B4RN CEO Barry Forde, who had earlier designed the educational network that BT took over, had already “specced” the basic network.
Working with Conder and long-time rural broadband activist Lindsey Annison, Forde produced the final project plan.
The plan depends on local land owners granting wayleaves to B4RN to run their ducts and fibre across their land for free. However, in return, the landowners get a broadband service that even BT can’t promise in the foreseeable future. Moreover, B4RN will not depend on nor seek any of the £530m available from BDUK, the government’s broadband delivery agency.
Forde said digging the core network would start early in 2012. “We expect this to be completed in approximately three months, weather permitting, and then we will begin to connect the first users,” he said.
Shares in B4RN are being made available under the EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) that offers 30% tax relief, with a minimum investment of £100 and maximum of £20,000.