|Photo courtesy B4RN|
Broadband has become essential for every sector of the community and increasingly important for our daily lives. Government and the large telecom companies plan to upgrade broadband to ‘superfast’ but not in many rural areas, where limited internet and mobile coverage affects businesses, homes and farms. The difficulty is reaching economic viability when private companies’ costs are so high and subscriber numbers are low.
Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) plans to lower the costs, both in the building of the broadband network and to the end user, by using local contractors and the community.
“Farmers and local people have the skillset we need for this project,"says B4RN Chief Executive Professor Barry Forde. "They know the land and people, and have been offering to work for shares, which means the digging for the core network can start early in 2012."
A networking expert with many years experience of designing, building and operating high performance networks, the professor was responsible for the CLEO network which provides connectivity to over 1000 schools and public sector sites across Lancashire and Cumbria.
"We expect this [core newtwork build] to be completed in approximately three months, weather permitting, and then we will begin to connect the first users,” he added.
|Phase 1 rollout map of the B4RN project|
B4RN’s plans are for a hyperfast broadband network fit for purpose far into this century. A 1 gigabit (1000Mbps) connection will ensure that any interaction with the Internet will be quick and easy. Television, films, cheap phone and video calls over the Internet, the ability to extend local mobile phone networks to cover black-spots, local security, telehealth and medicine applications - all will become possible. B4RN will be initially be providing the broadband connection and VoIP telephony, with further services to follow as the network rolls out over the coming years.
Barry Forde, B4RN Chief Executive, will explain the project and launch the share offer in the company at the event to raise the necessary capital required over the next few months. Representatives from the first phase communities of Melling, Arkholme, Quernmore, Abbeystead, Wray, Tatham, Roeburndale, Wennington and Caton with Littledale will be at the event as well as local dignitaries and celebrities.
B4RN is a community benefit company, owned by its shareholders. Income made will be re-invested in the service and spent within the communities the company serves. The shares 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.
A target of 662 registrations of interest were required for a green light and this was passed in just three months. The project moves one step closer to implementation with the launch of the Share Issue. “The phased network will be built by the community over three years for the seven phases.
"Now we have passed our target of over 700 registrations of interest in investment and taking a service at £30/month for 1Gbps, we can proceed to raise the capital required for Phase 1,” says Barry.
B4RN hopes to attract the support of local, national and international investors, whilst remaining a truly community-run business, bringing fast, future-proof, sustainable Internet access to the rural uplands, for this generation and those to come, leaving a lasting legacy for the area.
Christine Conder, a farmer’s wife and rural broadband pioneer, who successfully dug and installed the first rural fibre cable to her farm in Wray in 2009, knows it can be done and sums up the enthusiasm and ethos of B4RN,
“If we don’t do it ourselves then it will never get done, so B4RN is the answer, let’s all JFDI.”
The full business plan is available on the website, along with details of the pricing and payment structure for local residents and businesses. This includes bonuses of free install and connection for 12 months with a £1500 investment, three further free months for early bird investors, and payment in shares for involvement in the deployment of the project.
• Further information and share application forms will be available on the B4RN.org.uk website on 15th December