B4RN-raising gets off the ground, NFU promises help
More than half a dozen people became on the spot shareholders in Broadband for the Rural North, better known by its Twitter hashtag #B4RN, at its launch today in Lancaster, UK.
B4RN is potentially the most significant telecoms business of recent times because it could show rural communities worldwide the way to access high speed broadband without depending on government or incumbent telco favours.
B4RN is a community-owned and run telco that is raising £2m from private investors to fund the first 275km of a 1Gbps symmetric fibre to the home (FTTH) network.
The first of three phases will cover 1451 properties in eight rural Lancashire parishes. This area is so remote that it is unlikely to
receive any government funding via the BDUK procurement process or affordable connections from commercial network operators.
B4RN was born out of frustration with the status quo. A smaller project designed by Barry Forde, who designed the Cumbria and Lancashire educational network (Cleo) had the £750,000 earmarked for it taken back by county councillors.
A high speed wireless community network in the village of Wray was threatened with higher connection and traffic costs when BT Global Services took over the Cleo network.
Negotiations with local city and county councillors proved fruitless, mainly because of confusion and delay surrounding the BDUK procurement process, which a year after money was allocated to four pilot projects, seems at least a year away still from delivering a broadband signal.
Forde estimates B4RN will complete its build in 12 months, if it raises the £2m.
B4RN’s average cost of connection will be under £1400. B4RN aims to start monthly residential subscriptions at £30/m, which include a telephone service. This makes is financially attractive compared to BT’s £25/m “up to 40Mbps” asymmetric Infinity fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) service plus £10 telephone rental, even if residents could get it, and even if BT doubles Infinity speeds as promised next year.
B4RN will also offer managed business networking services, and is believed to be in talks to carry backhaul traffic for mobile network operators.
One reason B4RN’s pricing is so reasonable is that many landowners have waived wayleave rentals for fibre passing under their properties. However, some, and those who help with the digging, duct installations and network operations may be entitled to B4RN shares in lieu.
A more formal national agreement on wayleaves for rural broadband is under discussion. This was expected by November, but has been held up by “public bodies”, says David Collier, chief rural affairs adviser to the National Farmers Union for England.
Collier. Collier used Twitter to promise B4RN “practical help” after attending the launch. He says the wayleaves issue should be settled within the next few weeks.
This may coincide with a review of the business rates applied to lit fibre in rural areas. HM Revenue & Customs confirmed to Br0kenTeleph0ne that an announcement on this is likely “before the New Year in 2012”.