Why Wait For Google Fiber? UK Farmers Want Faster Internet, Build Their Own

14,387 8 Loading

[UPDATE: To clarify, Kansas City is the first city to receive Google Fiber, but Chattanooga, Tennessee built a 1Gpbs fiber network a few years ago, thanks to the publicly owned electric power system, EPB. You can learn more about the program here.]

Last November, neighborhoods in Kansas City became the first to enjoy the 1Gbps Internet speed made possible through Google Fiber. The service is not only the fastest ISP in the US, it is also prompting Time Warner to increase speeds and lower rates in the area, ushering startups into the area, and making a bunch of Kansas City users who opted into the service incredibly happy. As Google considers the possibility of bringing Fiber to other communities (some signs points to Canada as a possible spot), a group of remote farmers in the UK with sluggish Internet speeds decided they didn't want to wait on their ISPs, the government, or even Google to deliver an upgrade to their broadband speeds.

They opted to build an ultrafast fiberoptic network themselves.

Located in rural Lanchashire in the northern part of England, the local landowners began working together to spur interest in bringing fast Internet to their rural community. As reported by the BBC, they hammered out a business plan as a "not for profit" community benefit society and began selling shares into Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN). To get the network built, locals invested their time and physical labor to dig trenches and lay fiber cables while raising half a million pounds. After installing the network on the property, which is estimated to be around $1,500 (much less than what ISPs would charge), the cost of the service to residents is only $45 a month and delivers Internet speeds that are about 75 times faster than the average in the UK.

To further raise awareness of their efforts, B4RN has hosted a few open houses showing off super fast downloads (917 Mbps) and movie streaming to the media, business owners, and locals who are still on the fence. The plan is to continue to raise another 1.3 million pounds in order to roll out services to surrounding villages over the next seven years with the target of connecting 15,000 properties to the network.

Though it may seem like a luxury to have such fast speed, the chief executive of B4RN, Barry Forde, explained to the BBC that farmers are increasingly required to fill out forms online, adding "If you haven't got broadband you are severely disadvantaged."

Smaller communities are often overlooked by corporate telecommunication companies because the cost of installing the system is too great for the number of customers who will ultimately use the service. Although big cities will inevitably see fiber come within the next decade, communities on the fringes will likely be stuck with 20th century broadband speeds for a long time.

Building the network themselves also means that they retain control over their land even as they increase its value by embracing the latest technology. Also, landowners can dig a fiber line on their property without having to sacrifice its aesthetics, something that would be more likely to happen with a corporation focused on cost alone.

Similar cooperatively owned fiberoptic ISPs were started in 2002 in North Dakota. The Dakota Central Telecommunications and Dickey Rural Networks completed their networks last year. Together, the two networks span over 10,000 square miles and service about 16,000 residents and businesses.

These efforts are being hailed as role models for other communities around the world calling for more digital services, such as Netflix and live TV streams, telecommunication services like Skype and Google Hangouts, online gaming and cloud computing. As more people transition to professional and personal lives played out in the digital realm, the demand for fast and reliable service will be paramount, especially in rural areas that have few options for gaining access to faster speeds. Undoubtedly, large telecommunication companies will be watching B4RN and other community networks very closely to see whether co-ops may be the next big threat undermining their customer base.

Looking ahead, rural fiber networks may become the great equalizer that slows down urban aggregation contributing to the rise of mega-cities. After all, many are driven into the cities in order to find work and have access to more "modern" services like broadband and mobile networks. But the nature of work is changing as a growing number of people are telecommuting or working virtually. Those communities looking to halt or even reverse this flight may turn to building their own fiber networks to eliminate the technological handicaps that they are often associated with.

So the next time you read where someone has labeled people in the country as being "behind the times," just remember: they may be reading that same comment as they surf the web, download massive files, and stream their favorite shows without a hiccup.

You can check out more about B4RN in this piece from The One Show:

[images: BBCNeil Turner/Flickr]


David J. Hill

Managing Director, Digital Media at Singularity University
I've been writing for Singularity Hub since 2011 and have been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. My interests cover digital education, publishing, and media, but I'll always be a chemist at heart.

Discussion — 8 Responses

  • RBETurner March 16, 2013 on 1:57 pm

    Might want to find a new source for the video. Excellent article otherwise. 🙂

  • DigitalGalaxy March 16, 2013 on 6:32 pm

    Very cool! It’s amazing to see people come together to achieve higher technological advancement when the powers that be ignore them.

    Although, I can’t help but wonder at the reasoning put forth in the article: filling out forms? Sure, dial-up might be a slight hindrance for filling out online forms, since your connection might drop or it might take forever to load pages, but if that’s the extent of your need for the Internet, a WISP would serve just as well, and be a lot cheaper…

    • Jess Amule DigitalGalaxy March 17, 2013 on 3:49 am

      I have worked for one. Unless you are in a fairly flat area (including tall trees) WISP is finicky at best. Even if the terrain plays nice you still have to put up towers as cell towers wont let you on being competitors and radio/tv towers have too much RF in them and freak the radios out. Then you often have to resort to utility poles and then you are fighting for space from the telco, cable, power and other services. Fiber is the way to go and fairly future proof. If you can overcome the politics and finances then roll it out. Otherwise we are not going to see it without a heavy hitter like Google or nothing short of a TVA style project “fiber to every home by x date.” This would create a lot of jobs from ditch diggers to engineers so of course the government is not interested

  • Mat Rahim March 17, 2013 on 5:42 am

    semuanya terbaik untuk dunia global
    saya menyokong sepenuhnya

  • Cyantific March 18, 2013 on 6:07 am

    Everyone that mentions google fiber fails to mention that it is not the first city to have 1Gbps…. Chattanooga Tennessee has had a 1Gbps fiber network for three years now.

    • David J. Hill Cyantific March 22, 2013 on 11:31 am

      The story was updated a few days ago to reflect this fact, after it was pointed out by someone on Twitter. Also, the article doesn’t say anything about Google Fiber being “first”; however, the reason that there is broad interest in Google Fiber is the potential for widespread deployment of the technology, as opposed to one specific locale like Chattanooga.

      What’s interesting about farmers installing fiber is that it was a cooperative, community effort rather than a city-wide program with bureaucratic oversight.

      • Craig J. Townsend David J. Hill April 23, 2013 on 2:03 pm

        Which is the wave of the future I believe David. Top down command and control political solutions is an old paradigm based on pre-singularity finite resources. As we go expoential and the prices of new technology keeps dropping it will be in the hands of people themslves to put into place solutions to their problems.

  • Felipe Buxcador May 27, 2013 on 1:53 am

    5 farmers died crushed by an unexpected flood of porn.