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Friday 16 December 2011

Byers Green, B4RN and Better news in 2012?

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A quick summary of this week's events, and a seasonal greeting.....

This blog post can be read at

It would seem that community pressure does indeed force BT to succumb. Byer's Green, one of the villages visited by John Popham during Can't Get Online week, have been informed that, despite meeting none of BT's criteria for FTTC, the villagers are to receive the upgrade.

From The Byers Green Community Forum

Happy Christmas to all our readers.

Your Christmas present follows below.

"Following our recent meeting with BT Openreach a 'demand assessment' review of the Broadband take-up in Byers Green was commissioned. This has now been analysed by BT Openreach and they have determined that the demand is sufficient to justify the necessary investment to provide a 'fibre to cabinet' upgrade of the Byers Green service.

The current expectation is that this will be installed some time in mid 2012."

You made it possible.

The view here is that it's a shame that the community has not sought a more permanent solution that doesn't hand over all the money each month far into the future to BT, and that a community social enterprise could at least have re-spent the cash locally, but one can only hope that 100% of the community can be served with at least something better than that which is currently provided by the incumbent.

And if you are a community who has not yet been told there will be an upgrade of any flavour, Byer's Green should offer more than a glimmer of hope. And why not aim for the true target - FTTH? After all, if it doesn't prove within, say, three years that it will be viable to BT in the long-term.... well, let's say there would be some hats eaten!


Yesterday, it was standing room only at the B4RN launch, with communities and organisations from all over the UK filling seats and floorspace, much to the bemusement of some local people who obviously hadn't quite grasped what a unique and interesting project B4RN is for so many around the country. The opening of the share offer is a major milestone for community FTTH, and 5TTH is proud to have been a part of making history. Not quite Fiver To The Home but as close as you are ever likely to come.

Barry Forde was as impressive as ever, and listening to him talking tech to Seb from ThinkBroadband during the post-event networking about Juniper, IX, etc etc was one of those moments that reinforces the conviction that B4RN is set on exactly the right route. Not a single negative report has come out. In fact, here are some of the blogs, stories, tweets etc so you can read all about it.

Letters, videos and tweets of support from the Duke of Westminster, the first Google Fiber city- Kansas, EU Commissioner Neelie Kroess, Andrew Stott (Director of Digital Engagement at the Cabinet Office), ECFiber in Vermont, Dave Isenberg, and many, many others show just how much goodwill there is towards the success of this project. And its success may well raise many questions about the BDUK process during 2012......

However, there are those for whom the green eyed monster is showing because this FTTH, community led, 100% community benefit solution is now fully underway. Disingenuous attempts to dissuade potential investors are unlikely to work though because this is a value for money, long-term (not interim) solution where the Management Team are absolutely determined that every penny that can will stay within the community. And as has been discovered elsewhere, once the fibre goes into the ground to the first few people, communities get IT.

Share application forms can be downloaded from so get yourself a great Xmas pressie and Buy a Bit of B4RN!

Breaking News: as I type this, Broken Telephone has published the worrying story that the VOA may be likely to further hamper efforts to lay fibre unless you are BT with a story headlined "VOA ready to bung BT billions". Not such great news.

And Finally......

Many, many thanks to everyone for the support, stories, and comments to 5TTH. There will now be a period of radio silence as family and personal commitments take precedence, even for this obsessed one! Wishing you all a very happy Christmas and New Year and let's hope that 2012 sees much more in the way of progress towards FTTH in the UK, rural and urban. And especially from communities who should not be tied to the lengthy BDUK process, the incumbent or interim solutions, and who should be allowed to innovate and deliver unhindered by bureaucracy, greed and downright short-sightedness. See the light  xxLindsey

......walks away singing, "C'mon baby light my fibre"

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Tuesday 6 December 2011

Pensions meet broadband - mutual benefits

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Just been reading Francis Maude's statements on procurement, IT, government etc which led to the discovery of the launch of the Mutuals Information Service by the Cabinet Office yesterday. In the middle of the CW article is a reference to MyCSP - My Civil Service Pension (lucky buggers even getting a pension). MyCSP is a mutual handling, obviously, pensions so let's join the dots to broadband....

This blog post can be read at

Now, as with all things in #ThatLondon Borough of Westminster, it appears one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. But, we're used to that....

The Cabinet Office is pushing hard for the involvement of SMEs in IT procurement. Sadly, this message didn't appear to make it down the road to BDUK, who specifically excluded SMEs of any size (in fact, most companies) in the procurement. But, to give them their due, are now rapidly trying to make up for lost ground by chucking £20M at the problem and taking it to the extreme by expecting communities to become social ventureprises and expecting parishes etc to move into a world dealing with the sharks that are telcos and the throwing knives that are gap-funding grants.

We have already begun to investigate #RCBF through this blog, and it seems from today's postbag and retweets that we are not alone in our concerns.

Anyhow, onto the positive. In that article, we find reference to MyCSP which is a mutual set up and owned by three parties - the staff (read: community), the government, and a private sector company. It manages 15 million pensions, which is not far different from the 20 million households in UK of which approx 70% at present want a decent broadband connection. The government plans to roll out more of such mutual and innovative structures so here is a little suggestion.

Read this quote from Francis Maude and let's replace the word 'employees'.....

Too often there’s been a binary choice between the Government providing a service itself, or outsourcing it to the private sector. These choices have historically been driven by a belief that services have to be controlled centrally – with a one size fits all approach that has left little room for innovation.

“We are looking for more innovative ways to structure services. We know that COMMUNITIES [employees] who have a stake in their business, or take ownership of it completely, have more power and motivation to improve the service they run. They can also benefit from partnerships with private or voluntary sector organisations which can bring in capital and expertise.

“For the private sector, which can no longer expect the generous margins of the past, tapping the talent of COMMUNITIES [frontline staff] to improve efficiency will be a priority. The state too can keep a stake so that taxpayers benefit from the rising value of an improved service...."

Each of the five #RCBF models could be run in this mutually beneficial way. And should be. So should all broadband projects. It is time for every Council, civil servant, company, community and consumer to endeavour to grasp new ways of working. The old ones clearly did not and do not benefit all, whereas a mutual can. Especially when it is a mutual with stakeholders from all parties represented on the Board, as Directors etc, not a Smoke & Mirrors Mutual.

This approach would put paid to all the greed currently rife in broadband, and which is about to explode yet further as consultants, telecom laywers, private companies etc seek to slaughter the cash cow that this tranche of broadband monies will end up supporting (rather than actual delivery) if we are not careful.

It's not just about money though. (Although you'd think it was all about money the way some people unceasingly mouth off about it). What it would be nice to see is some goodwill, collaboration and co-operation for the common good and mutual benefit. Especially at this time of year.

For more info on Mutuals, the website was launched yesterday
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Monday 5 December 2011


Read more! The Rural Community Broadband Fund has been launched with £20M in the pot. The discussions are now ensuing, particularly on Twitter, about how this will work. We have a few questions too....

This blog post can be read at

There are now so many pots of money flying around for rural and urban broadband that it is incredibly easy to get confused. And that's those of us in the know. For those new to the party, it's difficult to believe that it's going to be possible to navigate the acronyms, processes etc and arrive at the correct, long term, sustainable solution, rather than just endeavour to spend the money on sticking plasters. And probably fail.

It would be fantastic if all of us who had campaigned so long and so hard for rural broadband to receive attention (and funding) were right now sitting here cheering that progress was being made. But the reality is that this is all looking like a right royal cock up that is being rushed through with little thought to what actually should be being done. But, no doubt, those who believe they are right will continue unchecked, without listening to those on the ground who can see the problems that this could all cause.

The places where the problems are going to occur are not in well-funded offices with annual budgets due to be renewed in April, but in hard-pushed communities already struggling to stay afloat and suffering volunteer fatigue, as government pushes its problems out of its departments and the civil service into the hands of the overtaxed and unpaid public.

So, with a quick background first, we have questions.....

RCBF comes from Defra and is from the Rural Development Program for England pot. It is aimed specifically at rural areas who qualify in the Final 10% (although this on the whole has not been defined by anyone yet) and community projects. (Unlike the £100M the other day, which is for urban projects, and is a slice of the £530M taken from the BBC License Fee and which was intended for the Final Third).

The reality is that all of this money, even with a zero added, is not sufficient for the task. But, instead of trying to do a few areas well with the money we have, we are slicing and dicing the pots into such small amounts that we are going to end up doing nowhere properly. Any business run in this way would be on its knees in a few months, probably weeks.

Currently, there is an Applicant's Handbook and a 5 page Rural Community Broadband Toolkit to guide you through the maze that is designed to part communities from 75% of the project costs. Section 7 of the Applicant's Handbook includes the completely bizarre statement under Value For Money

Based on BDUK’s experience of establishing Superfast Broadband solutions (24Mbps and above) in hard to reach areas, we would expect that a Superfast Broadband connection should require an average grant aid of approximately £300 per premise enabled.

(I'm sure all of us would love to know precisely where this BDUK experience has been gained considering the current state of play with BDUK bids in this country).

Expressions of interest for the RCBF are due in between 1st Dec and 31st January 2012. Which gives you, as Pastieman69 pointed out, about one actual working day to get it together if you are an average community.

Our questions:

The applicant is fully responsible for any liabilities associated with the project, such as the clawback of grant funds (potentially plus a penalty) should the project fail to deliver against your contract.

So if the network/upgrade is deemed substandard due to contractor fault(s) the community has to pay? Even if the contractor is BT/Fujitsu? Seems to be heavily in the telcos' favour to trigger this and then move in to remedy once the community have paid in full for it.

You cannot claim for any costs incurred in advance of securing approval of any full application.

So any consultants parachuted in to work on the EOI/work towards full bid with the community would have to be paid for by the community?

You will only be able to recover expenditure once you have been able to provide evidence that you have paid for it. This means that you can only claim against actual defrayed expenditure – at a static intervention rate for each claim.

Who decides the defrayed payment rate, and what happens if suddenly the price is increased overnight?

You will therefore need to make arrangements to pay for all works up front, meaning that you will need some reserve funds or other means to "bank roll" the project.

Ok, pay for it all from within the community, and we'll give you the allocation of funds to cover the "assumption of £300 per premise and up to 50%". What returns are investors/parishes & CIC's expected to get to repay any money borrowed against the project to fund it? And, more importantly, who will actually own the infrastructure - the community or the contractor/telco used to build/connect to it?

If procuring services, you will need to comply with public procurement rules appropriate to any contracts you put out to tender, and you will need to treat all bidders transparently and equally in your procurement process(es).

If you have to talk to/go through a telco to set this all up before putting out to tender, how can it be transparent tendering if you then award them the contract? Who will pay for the tender if it has to go through TED/OJEU?

Every single cost is already known for each technology. Except ONE. Backhaul. Where is the solution for getting affordable backhaul to each and every one of the communities in the final 10% or the Final Third?

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Friday 2 December 2011

Fibre in our daily diet

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(Don't nick the graphic - ask, as it's mine - LA*).

Not for nothing have I shown up at suit-only events wearing a tshirt (and freezing for the cause) saying "Rural broadband contains nuts and fibre" - after all, it's a key message. And you can buy a shirt too, or a mug. But I'm not a mug and c'mon Innocent, BITC, Nabisco, Kellogg etc, where are you?

This blog post can be read at

Over the years (10+ now for fibre), I have spoken to every single company that has a green flash on its cereal boxes, makes fibre rich products, or tries to sell any food item on the basis of its fibre content. A few have even been ready to sponsor my conferences (like The Endgame in 2004 for new home developers looking to do FTTH - a little ahead of its time, I will now admit 7 years later, but I was right about new build and true broadband becoming Govt policy, even back then**).

But, where are you now? Why are you not leaping on to community fibre projects as the 'soap powder sponsors'? (Those sponsors who are not directly related to the product or cause, but who can see how massive the target audience is they can reach).

BT are a huge soap powder sponsor. The vast majority of BT's sponsorships (is there a list?) have nowt to do with telecoms or phones or broadband etc.

It is time for the companies who make food and fibre (wool, textiles etc) products to realise that getting in front of those who SHOP ONLINE over a decent broadband connection (not one of these poxy copper thingies I am on) will seriously appreciate fibre.

I'm willing to act as the agent to put you in touch with projects and communities needing to support fibre projects.....oh look, another idea I just gave away for free. oops. Run with it someone. Go and sit in Innocent Towers until they understand that no-one can actually watch the great links in the newsletter without a decent connection (Row, Shilpee etc should get it but they may need to look back to 2008 for the mails!).

Whoever picks this idea up, which has been floating around in my head since before we did the SABC Aviemore event (part of the Access to Broadband Campaign which laid the majority of the foundation stones for what has happened post-CUT), it won't hurt you to make a donation to Cyberbarn and buy some shares in B4RN. Instead of just constantly ripping off the good people doing all the hard work to make the way easy for you. (5-10 years later than the action was required, but we appreciate you turning up finally!)

Like I said, I'll stop ranting soon......;)

* It's hard not to take a dim view of people stealing my ideas (I put more than enough out there for free as it is) and then not even buying me a curry (Simon) or making a contribution to the twins' Paypal account. One good 'friend' has screwed me for over £50k hard cash, another 'friend' has taken me for a mug and is now being aggressive (most unQuakerly) with myself and rural communities in an attempt to line his (women don't work like this) pockets. Surely this world can't be full of thieves or money grabbing nasties? In this instance, it's just a food group, cereal packet and concept. ASK. Or donate.

** Long story, blame the Destruction of Trade and Industry for getting jittery about my actions.

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B4RN is go!! :)))

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We all knew today would come, it was just when, but now it really is ALL go! Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN or Barn to its followers) has passed the required number of registrations to proceed with building a world class, gigabit, ubiquitous, community owned and run, community benefit FTTH network. And there's more....

This blog post can be read at

There is an invite-only Launch event for the company and share offer on 15th December at 2pm at The Storey, Lancaster. This is an opportunity for potential investors and those that B4RN will be connecting to come together to meet the Management Committee, hear much more about the project, see the maps, and more. (Cyberdoyle has promised cake too!) Full details of the share offer will be given and for many it will be a chance to learn what they can do to help with the next phase. This is a hands-on community project and our network of supporters extends around the globe already. (If you would like to attend the Launch event, please let infoatb4rndotorgdotuk know ASAP as space is limited to 150 people).

Unless you have been living off-planet, you will know by now what B4RN intends to do. How we are going about doing it is undoubtedly unique, but we believe it will prove to be (and have designed the project to be) eminently replicable elsewhere. Our main aim is to connect what is (if there was a proper definition) the Final Ten Percent and disprove all these claims of rural and remote FTTH non-viability. The first 8 parishes are without a doubt in deeply rural areas. I can highlight just how rural by saying that when we were looking at which bank we should approach for the company account and/or for a loan deal for anyone looking to borrow the money at a special rate to buy shares, we realised that there wasn't actually a branch of ANY bank in the project area! (Which highlights the importance of being able to access internet banking...)

The next phase requires an incredible amount of commitment from a growing number of people so this blog may become less rant-ridden over the coming months as I am as determined as any other member of the current Management Team and the Lune Valley residents to make this succeed by throwing everything we have at it from our own skills and expertise. And it is quite a team, which you probably couldn't have headhunted if you had tried, but which I suspect reflects the enormous talent you can find in rural areas if you just look.

I am copying and pasting the text of the press release below for anyone who wishes to run with it for their own blog, local paper, news site, council etc to show just what can be done in rural areas, whatever the hype would have you believe. We continue to be as open as possible with the info we are putting out there (unlike others) so let us know if we have overlooked anything that you need to know.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 1st December 2011

Residents in North Lancashire launch Fibre Optic Broadband Company

An exciting community initiative, initially across eight parishes of rural Lancashire, to deliver a world class hyperfast fibre optic broadband network is being launched at The Storey in Lancaster on 15th December at 2pm.

Broadband has become essential for every sector of the community and increasingly important for our daily lives. Government and the large telecom companies plan to upgrade broadband to ‘superfast’ but not in many rural areas, where limited internet and mobile coverage affects businesses, homes and farms. The difficulty is reaching economic viability when private companies’ costs are so high and subscriber numbers are low.

Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) plans to lower the costs, both in the building of the broadband network and to the end user, by using local contractors and the community. “Farmers and local people have the skillset we need for this project. They know the land and people, and have been offering to work for shares, which means the digging for the core network can start early in 2012. We expect this to be completed in approximately 3 months, weather permitting, and then we will begin to connect the first users,” stated Professor Forde. Shares will be available from 15th December - further information and application forms will be available on the website on that date.

B4RN’s plans are for a hyperfast broadband network fit for purpose far into this century.
A 1 gigabit (1000Mbps) connection will ensure that any interaction with the Internet will be quick and easy. Television, films, cheap phone and video calls over the Internet, the ability to extend local mobile phone networks to cover black-spots, local security, telehealth and medicine applications - all will become possible. B4RN will be initially be providing the broadband connection and VoIP telephony, with further services to follow as the network rolls out over the coming years.

Barry Forde, B4RN Chief Executive, will explain the project and launch the share offer in the company to raise the necessary capital required over the next few months. Representatives from the first phase communities of Melling, Arkholme, Quernmore, Abbeystead, Wray, Tatham, Roeburndale, Wennington and Caton with Littledale will be at the event as well as local dignitaries and celebrities.

B4RN is a community benefit company, owned by its shareholders. Income made will be re-invested in the service and spent within the communities the company serves. The shares are being made available under the EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) that offers 30% tax relief, with a minimum investment of £100 and maximum of £20,000.

B4RN hopes to attract the support of local, national and international investors, whilst remaining a truly community-run business, bringing fast, future-proof, sustainable Internet access to the rural uplands, for this generation and those to come, leaving a lasting legacy for the area.


1. B4RN has been more than three years in the planning and development stage. The B4RN project will bring a state of the art, fibre optic broadband connection to the rural communities long before most of the urban areas. Rural Lancashire plans to be a world leader in “hyperfast”.

2. Professor Barry Forde (B4RN Chief Executive) is a networking expert with many years experience of designing, building and operating high performance networks. He was responsible for the CLEO network which provides connectivity to over 1000 schools and public sector sites across Lancashire and Cumbria. Bios are available for Professor Forde and the Management team

3. The full business plan is available on the website, along with details of the pricing and payment structure for local residents and businesses. This includes bonuses of free install and connection for 12 months with a £1500 investment, three further free months for early bird investors, and payment in shares for involvement in the deployment of the project.

4. A target of 662 registrations of interest were required for a green light and this was passed in just three months. The project moves one step closer to implementation with the launch of the Share Issue. “The phased network will be built by the community over three years for the seven phases. Now we have passed our target of over 700 registrations of interest in investment and taking a service at £30/month for 1Gbps, we can proceed to raise the capital required for Phase 1,” said Barry Forde.

5. B4RN will initially provide internet and telephony 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.

6. Christine Conder, a farmer’s wife and rural broadband pioneer, who successfully dug and installed the first rural fibre cable to her farm in Wray in 2009, knows it can be done and sums up the enthusiasm and ethos of B4RN, “If we don’t do it ourselves then it will never get done, so B4RN is the answer, let’s all JFDI.”

7. Photos (to be accredited to B4RN) are available at

Contact details:

Professor Barry Forde,
Christine Conder,
Lindsey Annison,

Telephone: 01524 221588 or mobile: 07952 503253 / 07967 670759
Twitter: @dig2agig
JFDI (Just Farmers Doing IT)

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