In 2009, Chris Condor, Lindsey Annison and Barry Forde decided that the only way to get a fast, resilient, sustainable broadband connection in the rural North of the country, was to build the infrastructure themselves. It had become clear that it was commercially nonviable for the incumbent suppliers. Fortunately Chris had many years experience of DIY building and maintaining fixed wireless and satellite broadband networks and is a pioneer in fibre self-build, while Barry is a networking expert with many years experience of designing, building and operating high performance networks so they had some idea of what was involved. They also knew the pent-up demand for fast broadband from farm owners and rural dwellers, and the determination of Northern communities when they put their mind to something! The idea of Broadband for the Rural North, or B4RN for short, was born.
The company was registered in August 2011, as a Community Benefit Society (a kind of co-operative). This means that there is an asset lock - the infrastructure the community builds will stay with the community and the company is run for the benefit of the community not shareholders. The project was launched in December 2011 and the first customers went online in April 2012. Four short years later, the eight parishes have expanded to 41 (and counting), with over 3500 households connected, averaging 65% uptake in each parish and as much as 95% in some parishes.
B4RNorfolk is totally independent of the original B4RN project - Broadband for the Rural North. Like several other communities, we've been inspired by B4RN, have befriended them and are replicating their success locally with their blessing but are otherwise unconnected to them. We believe that the folk of Norfolk have the same community spirit and determination as our friends up north and can therefore replicate their success. Broadband for the Rural North have very kindly given us permission to use some of their photography and copy on this site as well as sharing their original business plan and data about how their actual costs, timeline and progress differed from their business plan to help us on our way, for which we are incredibly grateful.
We plan to run Broadband for Rural Norfolk in much the same way - a community benefit company set up by volunteers with support from farmers and landowners. The way we set up the company will ensure that it can never be bought by a commercial operator and that its profits can only be distributed to the community.
We plan to undertake an initial share offering of £2 million which will be sufficient to complete the build out for the first 8 parishes and get them online. We'll be relying heavily on volunteer support to lay the fibre over private land.
Unlike other providers we won't use BT’s copper lines to reach customer’s properties. Our gigabit network will be entirely fibre optic and entirely B4RNorfolk community owned. None of this would be possible without the support of the investors, volunteers and landowners to make the BARNorfolk project a reality. Read more about this on our community pages.
When a new community on the edge of our coverage area wishes to be connected, we ask them to raise investment and support to cover the expansion. With the help of local volunteers and landowners we establish viable routes and wayleaves, then lay small 16mm ducts in that new area either by trench or mole-ploughing. Fibre optic cable is then fed down these ducts in a process called ‘blowing’.
Often we will need to site a ‘node’ cabinet in the new community; these can be hosted inside community buildings (village halls etc.) or in our custom built secure outdoor enclosures. These local nodes are always connected by at least two feeds into the wider network, offering resilience and continued service even if one of the feeds is interrupted.
Further 16mm ducts are installed around the community to a number of inconspicuously buried chambers in which we will place junction boxes called ‘bullets’. From these bullets a very small 7mm duct will be laid to each and every property requesting service. Once fibre is blown into this duct and its connections ‘spliced’, a property can go live at 1000Mbps!
Most of our ducts will be laid deep under agricultural land, but we will regularly license roadworks where necessary, cross railways, dual carriage ways and canals. Other community groups such as B4RN have even crossed under rivers with Environment Agency approved directional drilling.
We can continue expanding the B4RNorfolk network to many times the initial planned size with no compromise to the quality or speed of users’ connections. This is due to the amazing bandwidth capacity of fibre, and the professional, world class design of our network.