Britons crowdsource gigabit fibre to rural north

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Britons crowdsource gigabit fibre to rural north

Symmetrical gigabit broadband only $47 a month.

A community in Britain's rural north has embarked on a plan to build its own gigabit fibre network, forgoing the lack of infrastructure from established telcos in the area.

The Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) project, established by Lancaster University professor Barry Forde, ultimately hopes to offer a symmetrical 1 Gbps service for £30 ($AU47) per month.

The project, according its business plan, would cut construction costs by up to 90 percent - approximately £1000 ($AU1570) connection costs to each property - by crowdsourcing construction of the network. Property owners would be tasked with digging and installing trenches on their own private land, rather than public highways.

"The crowdsourcing of construction is going to be a very interesting exercise," Forde told iTnews in an email interview. "If you ask the community 'will you help to build a state-of-the-art fibre optic network?' they gasp and say they know nothing of this, so of course not.

"If you then explain that what it involves is installing something that looks like a water pipe across their farm land they react very differently. I've been very pleasantly surprised by how many farmers have said, 'Ok give me the pipe and I'll do it this weekend'.

"We have a number of people who are keen to go on the fibre laying and fusion splicing courses which we are going to fund."

The project was a renewed effort by Forde, who had previously attempted a similar fibre-to-the-premise partnership for his home Lancaster parish as far back as 2009, under the Lancaster Digital Project.

Despite £750,000 in funding for the project, it was ultimately pulled by the county council in favour of its own broadband plan.

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The new project comprises plans to pass more than 5000 residential and business properties in 24 parishes surrounding Lancashire, at a total estimated cost £5.66 million (AU$9 million).

It was buoyed by the community forming its own telco to charge connected properties a £150 connection fee to the network and flat £30 ($AU47) per month for the symmetrical gigabit service.

The business plan disregarded the asymmetric 100 Mbps services offered by other global fibre-to-the-home networks, including Australia's National Broadband Network, as an insignificant stepping stone to the faster speeds.

The project would be funded in part by issuing shares in the community telco but required a 50 percent take-up in the first phase - 661 properties - during initial canvassing of opinion by the end of September in order to go ahead.

"Local Parish councils have been heavily involved and we have had meetings with most of them and given presentations of our plans," Forde said "Given that virtually 100 percent of properties in the planned area are on less than 2 Mbps we have quite a good list now and are pretty confident that we can hit at least 50 percent quickly."

The British project had taken inspiration from similar developments in Europe.

It was one of several global community projects formed in previous years with aims of improving telecommunications in rural areas, often due to a failed ability from major companies to participate.

A core of seven councils in south-western remote Queensland has lobbied the Federal Government for the $24 million it deemed necessary to roll out 1350 kilometres worth of fibre to the area, in lieu of the satellite connections they would receive under the National Broadband Network.

It would ultimately serve approximately 700 permanent residents in the towns.

Barcoo Shire Mayor and project lead, Bruce Scott, said the councils was considering a similar, community-owned telco to the B4RN project. Telstra was currently completing a cost-benefit analysis for the area.

A joint venture between Victoria's Bendigo Community Bank and Adelaide Bank in 2004 resulted in the formation of nine individual community telcos spread across the country to deliver broadband solutions to specific regional towns and areas.

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