LEWFA welcomed a group of us on the 25th June, and talked us through their experiences so far with their B4RN project, which was started in 2015 and was, when we met them, a little over a month into the digging and laying of the fibre optic cables for their community broadband network.
The meeting was extremely helpful, and painted a realistic and positive picture of the organisation, investment, determination and effort required to carry out a community project of this type.
- LEWFA expect the whole project to take 2 years, from start to finish.
- They identified three key ongoing tasks and allocated each one to a member of the LEWFA team, so that the workload would be manageable. The tasks were:
- promotion of the project and communication of progress within the community
- route and network planning
- fundraising and finance
- All three of those tasks, running in parallel, were essential to get the project with B4RN started: local enthusiasm was raised and gauged by talking to households and neighbours about the idea; those interested were then asked how much they might roughly be willing to invest in the project (for more on why this community investment is key to all B4RN projects, see here); an initial network map covering all properties in the 5 villages allowed B4RN to calculate an approximate cost for the LEWFA project, to check that the cost wasn’t likely to be in excess of what the community was prepared to pay for it.
- Money was only asked for when LEWFA were sure that the cost was within the community’s reach. When enough money had come in for LEWFA to be sure that the project would be successfully funded, they gave the go-ahead and work started in earnest… ie, material was ordered and digging started.
- Members of the community signed up for smaller / shorter roles in the project, such as talking to landowners to agree wayleaves for the cable to go under their fields, or co-ordinating the digging with landowners, farmers, contractors and volunteers, or helping on dig days (whether with preparation, digging under walls, feeding cable through the mole plough and so on… or with sandwiches, tea and moral support).
- Almost all landowners in the LEWFA area have been extremely supportive of the project, and getting their permission for cable to run under their land has been relatively straightforward, with few exceptions. This is a key factor in the success (and in limiting the cost) of a B4RN project; landowners need to see and be sympathetic to the benefits of bringing broadband to their wider community, since they aren’t paid for cable crossing their land (though they can be “paid” for digging in the cables themselves).
In summary, LEWFA were enthusiastic about their project, and happy with their experience with B4RN so far. Their advice and experience (which they were very willing to share with us, and which we were very grateful to receive) gave those of us from Rathmell and Wigglesworth considerable hope that a similar project could work well in our villages.
Thanks again to LEWFA for their hospitality and openness.
To paraphrase this article, using the mobile (4G) network to bring broadband to rural communities feels like it should be an easier answer than laying miles of cable, but along with the advantages, there are a number of drawbacks. From the Broadbandchoices article:
Pros of 4G over home broadband
- Packages are often far more flexible – 30-day contracts abound that can be cancelled whenever you want.
- Speeds can be pretty darn fast, sometimes faster than home broadband connections.
- A mobile broadband device is portable, so you can take it wherever you take your laptop or tablet.
- It eliminates the need to pay for home broadband, line rental, and a mobile plan – using 4G for your home connection could potentially cut out some bills completely.
Cons of 4G over home broadband
- Mobile broadband, whether from a hotspot or your smartphone, usually has far stricter download limits than even the cheapest of home connections.
- Tethering from a mobile isn’t always possible. Not all smartphones have it as a feature, some networks don’t allow it, and some have narrow download limits for tethering. An unlimited data plan from Three, for instance, has a separate Personal Hotspot allowance of 12GB.
- It’s more expensive than similar home broadband packages… which often give you unlimited downloads, comparable speeds, and extras like internet security or TV.
- It’s less reliable. A lot of things can get in the way of a wireless signal, and if it goes down or starts being slow, there’s very little you can do about it.
- Those fast speeds have also been known to be pretty inconsistent.
- 4G can reach good speeds (40+ Mb), but fixed line broadband can reach much higher ones – up to 1Gb with fibre optic cable.
For those reasons among others, key members of the Rathmell / Wigglesworth group are of the opinion that 4G is unlikely to be the best solution for our villages.
In many ways the inspiration for our own efforts in Rathmell and Wigglesworth, the LEWFA community group is about a year ahead of us in their progress towards bringing fast broadband to our neighbouring villages of Lawkland, Eldroth, Wharfe, Feizor and Austwick.
LEWFA chose B4RN for their project, and started digging the route for the fibre optic cable in May 2016. Their schedule should see the network connected to households in their area over the next 12 months.
We’re organising a meeting with LEWFA in June 2016 to ask more about their experiences so far; anyone interested in participating, or with questions to put to LEWFA, can get in touch with us.
BT Openreach have connected 95% of the UK to fast broadband… but we’re in the remaining 5%. Their Community Fibre Partnership scheme is a way for a community to pay the difference between what BT will invest and what a broadband project actually costs.
If this project came to fruition the properties that it covers should be able to take up products like BT Infinity with typical speeds in the range of 20Mbps-50Mbps . Please note unlike the B4RN option we are investigating this will not by default cover all the community, it would only cover areas (and possibly only properties) where people have expressed an interest.
It should also be noted that this would be a Fibre to the Cabinet/Fibre to the Pole solution and the remainder of the link from the Cabinet/Pole to your house would still run over a copper cable which will still suffer speed degradation as the length of the copper run increases.
To get a costing from Openreach we need to provide a list of all the interested properties, so please Register your Interest.
B4RN started out in villages between Lancaster and Bentham, and have already extended their fibre-optic network as far as Clapham and Keasden to the north of us, and are working on a project to bring Lawkland, Eldroth and Austwick onto the network too.
B4RN succeeds by bringing together their expertise and the efforts of the community and the permission of local landowners to produce a hyperfast connection to every property in the community. Their Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) connection gives both a very fast upload and download speed of 1Gbps (that’s 1000Mbps!) with the possibility of even faster speeds in the future over the same connection.
We are actively pursuing getting an estimate of the investment required for this solution. We need to get as accurate as possible list of properties in the Rathmell and Wigglesworth communities so please use the form to Register your Interest.