I heard about B4RN on the radio last night, a fascinating story how a group of residents in rural England became weary waiting for the phone companies to make fast broadband available. Their solution? Lay their own optic fibre to their properties, offering 1Gb download speeds.
The success of the project is completely in the hands of the participants, who can subscribe for the service, and even buy shares to increase the capital available to invest in growing the network.
The purpose of the project is to take a new approach to the ownership, financial and deployment models used traditionally, and still proposed by, telecommunications companies. These models invariably leave rural areas outside of the scope of economic viability for the telecoms companies, and have helped to create the Digital Divide between rural and urban Britain.
You can even sponsor a metre of optic fibre for £5. Apparently when the phone company lays fibre it costs £140 a metre, when you use volunteer community labor, the cost plummets. Plus you can have fibre wherever you darn well like, as opposed to the phone company which uses profit/loss calculations to determine whether the investment is commercially viable. As the CEO of B4RN said in an interview with the BBC:
“…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.'”
If you ever needed any affirmation of the value a community places on proper high speed broadband, B4RN is the model, continuing to undermine the ridiculous politics played with the National Broadband Network in Australia, especially by the Liberal Party with their neutered model of fibre to the node.
If Tony Abbott wins power I suspect you’ll find me out on my street powering up the trenching machine and encouraging my neighbours to come help me lay our own fibre as well.