Following the broadband money

BT to duplicate B4RN fibre footprint

with 5 comments

The Lancashire County Council’s next generation broadband plan  allows BT, its business partner, to duplicate large areas where community-owned network operator B4RN is building a fibre to the home network, driven by frustration with BT and LCC delays.

Green = B4RN; Red = BT; Flesh = Duplicated coverage

A LCC target calls for “A pilot project covering seven Lancaster rural parishes offering fibre based SFBB to a minimum of 73% of premises with viable options to increase coverage to close to 100%.” The LCC website does not disclose the lucky parishes. However, sources say they are, by and large, the same as those B4RN intends to cover.

This is of course entirely predictable and expected. BT responds only to competition. Its fibre footprint mirrors Virgin Media’s cable TV footprint, and where competitors have raised their heads, whether with wireless or fibre, BT has been ruthless in eliminating the opposition (see West Sussex, Ewhurst, and others).

B4RN plans to give about 1500 homes and farms a 1000Mbps symmetric service via a fibre to the home link from July. The LCC expects BT to deliver an asymmetric service of more than 30Mbps to 97% of all businesses and homes, 647,000 premises. They are still “exploring options” about how to get “SFBB” to the remaining 3%, which is where B4RN operates.

B4RN co-founder Chris Conder says BT’s deal with LCC deal is actually quite subtle. The LCC plan misses Tatham, which is hard to service as it is difficult upland terrain. Population density is very low, and there’s very little copper cable. “Most of them are on DACS (digital to analogue converters) up there,” she says. “The exchange is in Yorkshire.” Any high speed broadband service to Tatham is likely to be via satellite.

BT may duplicate around 90% of B4RN’s footprint. However, LCC’s inclusion of Caton skews the “homes  passed” figure for the area. Conder says Caton, a low-land area with an exchange and two street cabinets, adds around 1400 homes to BT’s figures, apparently halving the duplication rate.

Conder says B4RN left Caton out of its plan because it had an exchange. “All our area is too far from exchanges to get a decent connection,” she says.

She disputes LCC’s classification of Caton as “rural upland”.  “That end of the parish is in the valley with cabinets anyway.”

Be that as it may, the LCC plan contains an implicit assumption that Lancashire farms are not businesses. If they were so considered, BT would be committed to provide prioritised “fibre based SFBB (superfast broadband) at speeds of up to 80Mbs to 100Mbs” to 90% of businesses. Faced with the same issue, North Yorkshire councils refused to accept a report on how to next generation broadband in their area.

BT played a lead role in creating the tipping point that led to B4RN’s formation. Now it may be forced to work with instead of against it. The LCC’s plan injuncts “potential partners” to design a solution that they “design a sustainable solution” for rural communities the LCC sees as “the vanguard rural communities” for early rollout.

Source: Lancashire County Council

The LCC pitched against B4RN for funding from the Defra Rural Development Fund, so it may not think B4RN, which has the public support of the EU’s Digital Agenda boss Nellie Kroes, is part of the “vanguard”.

There is a question whether BT will qualify under state aid rules to use taxpayers’ money in B4RN areas. If it can’t, it’s going to be expensive. An LCC graph of the costs of providing nextgen broadband to the “Final Third” shows that the per connection cost rises from around £450 to £1750.

That puts BT’s bill for competing with B4RN at a minimum of £3.0m. B4RN says it can provide a far superior service for £2m.

Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2012/06/02 at 21:31

5 Responses

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  1. I think B4RN may not be for sale. Perhaps the community voted with its money and feet when it supported B4RN? Any proposed purchaser would have to consider the cost of acquiring all the necessary wayleaves, and whether the company “could” be sold.

    A cooperative approach, where BT helps B4RN could be the productive way out for all concerned here. Let the good times roll.


    2012/06/02 at 22:08

    • Competition is good for everyone. It keeps us on our toes. There is no competition in the B4RN phase 1 area, that is why we are doing it ourselves. We would love to work with the county council and have their support, and are in discussions at the moment. Brendan Dick the regional manager from BT visited our area and said on national TV that it was uneconomic for them to provide a solution so we have no doubt that what we are doing is the right thing, and big society in action.

      You are right Rob, a co-operative approach is always the best, and our company can’t be sold, it will always belong to the community, and its profits will return to that community.

      The structures (hate to use the word cabinets) for our hubs were delivered and installation started this week, ( ) ducting is being buried, and its a classic case of JFDI, Just Farmers Doing IT which as Ian pointed out is just what Neelie Kroes loves to see. Lancashire could lead the way, like we did in the industrial revolution. A bit of co-operation is all IT takes.

      A bit of sponsorship would help if anyone would like to sponsor a metre of duct?
      every little helps…
      … do join us, together we are building a network of people, full of fibre.

      Chris Conder

      2012/06/03 at 06:58

  2. […] access to broadband and what access speeds and reliability it promises. Early reports suggested BT intends to duplicate two-thirds of B4RN’s coverage in one of the remotest parts of […]

  3. […] preference to build fibre to the home in sparsely-populated rural Lancashire in competition to B4RN rather than crowded […]

  4. […] when a small ISP announces an installation in an area – much like they tried to do to B4RN,” Brown […]

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