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Rural fibre broadband project B4RN connects 1,000th customer

Community broadband project B4RN, which delivers top download and upload speeds of 1Gbps, is now live over 1,000 premises. 

The B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) project, set up two years ago, aims to have around 2,000 customers connected and enjoying gigabit broadband by the end of 2015. 

Charging customers £30/month for an unlimited symmetrical service – that’s 1Gbps or 1,000Mbps download and upload speeds – B4RN is able to offer customers in a rural Lancashire a service equal to certain parts of London

The efforts of the plucky B4RN crew aren’t to be underestimated. The group, which consists largely of volunteers, with four full time employees, operates without the help of local authority. 

Using funds raised from loans and publicly sold shares to cover costs, B4RN says it should be in a position to repay all loans within 10-12 years with cash raised from subscriptions.

Though B4RN is based mainly in Lancashire, interested in the community-led project has snowballed to the extent that would-be customers in neighbouring counties are now expressing an interest. There’s even an offshoot project – B4YS (Broadband for Yealand, Storth and Silverdale) – which uses the same core network. 

Speaking to industry news site ISP Review, project leader and University of Lancashire professor Barry Forde said: “Our challenge is managing the demand from new parishes wishing to join. 

“Our patch has now grown to include parts of North Yorkshire as well as South Cumbria. Whenever we do a parish it always triggers interest from the next one and they form a group to pick up the challenge… They then have to commit to raising the material cash and/or digging costs depending on how they want to work it.”

Forde says that it’s not been easy sailing with Lancashire County Council unwilling to help and unlock money from the RCBF (Rural Community Broadband Funding) scheme, which has been used to extend BT-backed superfast broadband schemes in Durham and Rothbury

BT and B4RN have also locked horns in Dolphinholme, a village where B4RN intended to deliver FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) services to residents, only for BT to announce its intentions to do the same. In the end, it turned out that B4RN beat BT to the punch anyway

It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses, with the B4RN team facing various logistical and technological hiccoughs and equipment theft along the way, but the progress made so far proves that small companies with limited funding can still achieve impressive things in the face of opposition. 

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