A £1.86million community project to build a 1Gbps broadband network in rural Lancashire has officially started laying fibre-optic cables.
Broadband For the Rural North is a non-profit effort to create a fibre-to-the-home service for eight parishes in Forest of Bowland and the Lune Valley, funded by the local community.
B4RN started offering shares in December, and by March had already raised enough capital to start digging the core routes for its first phase, which will also serve further local connections.
Some of the digging will be done by local farmers, who will get free broadband in return for their contribution.
Andrew Metcalfe, a farmer who broke the first sod with brother John, said: “This will make a major difference to our community, and to me and my young family. As they grow they will be able to use the technology that children elsewhere take for granted, and we will be able to diversify our business through it.”
Weather permitting, all 13 of the core routes are expected to be complete in three months, with subsidiary routes and spurs to properties branching out from that.
B4RN is led by Professor Barry Forde, whose previous project connected more than 1,000 schools and public sites in Lancashire and Cumbria.
“It was great to see one of our local MPs, Mr Eric Ollerenshaw there with his spade, and brilliant to see so many kids digging away,” said Professor Forde. “They are the reason we are doing this, to bring them the connectivity they will need if we want to keep them living and working in this beautiful part of the world.
“We are delighted with the response to the share issue, which has surpassed even our highest hopes.
“This proves that the appetite for investment and support of such community owned broadband projects is alive and well, and that solving the problem of rural broadband for the next generation is prompting people to invest even in times of economic hardship.”
B4RN will provide both broadband and phone services to start, with further services in the future. Each home will have a battery backup so telephony over the fibre means landline connections are no longer required.
Ownership of B4RN shares starts from £100, with 30 per cent tax refunds available to anyone investing between £500 and £20,000.
A £1500 investment ensures a Foundation Membership with additional bonuses, such as a free connection and one year’s free subscription to the gigabit service.
B4RN’s coverage area is close to the coast, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, making it an ideal base for weekend breaks, holidays and the chance to explore some of the north of England’s most beautiful tourist areas.
External investors can nominate a property within B4RN coverage area for the free connection, including holiday cottages.
UPDATE 14/05/2012: B4RN starts laying core network after buying all the fibre ducting, access chambers and lids that it needs.
UPDATE 29/05/2012: B4RN launches ‘sponsor-a-duct’ campaign at £5 to sponsor a metre of fibre-optic ducting.