B4rn launched its share scheme with the aim of raising some £2 million to fund the build of its full fibre to the premises network covering an initial phase of 1,451 properties and offering 1 Gbps. The launch at The Storey in Lancaster was held in a packed auditorium with an audience not from just Lancashire but from all across the UK.
The project cost for phase 1 which covers 1,451 properties is projected at £1.86m of which £630,000 is the labour costs (e.g. training people how to splice to the same standards as teleco engineers), the remaining £1.23m for materials and work that they cannot do themselves. The cable plan avoids crossing or running down roads where it is feasible to, with the majority of the network ducting in across private land and amazingly there have been no refusals for a wayleave to cross land yet.
For the stats freaks, the 1,451 properties are in an area of 243km2, and will have 41 primary fibre routes, 275km of ducting which will carry 20,682km of fibre. Work on the core network will start in January/February with the plan to have 40km of ducting installed and 350 premises passed and half of them connected to the actual service. The end of 2012 should see all 1,451 properties connected, with properties being connected as the network passes them.
Two types of shares are available, 1.5 million shares at £1 each (minimum holding 100) are available to anyone, including those from outside the area who want to support the project. The remaining 500,000 will be for those who provide labour on the project, therefore those who are not able to help financially can provide labour and be rewarded. The shares are eligible for tax relief under the Enterprise Investment Scheme. Where someone invests £1,500 they can nominate a property for a free connection (normally £150) and a years free service (£360), for people buying shares before February 2012 the 12 months service extends to 15 months. The presentation from the meeting is available for download and provides more detail on the share scheme.
The plan to ensure support is available in an ongoing manner for the project after construction is to train local people during the construction phase to be able to handle fibre repairs, and others to provide a telephone support service, thus helping to provide employment for local people.
The service is expected to launch at a price of £30 a month with support for a VoIP service. The battery backup to the fibre router should provide backup power for around two hours meaning there is scope for people to ditch their old copper phone line, thus saving line rental costs.
B4rn is very much working in the area where the commercial providers and even BDUK funded projects are unlikely to ever provide a superfast broadband service and definitely not 1 Gbps in the next five years, and with a first phase completion expected in 2012, it will be delivering much earlier than almost all the BDUK projects. Projects like this are not easy to get going, but with the eight parishes being so close to the cutting edge of broadband speeds it is something that needs more credit than it has had to date. As was said during the presentation today "It's not rocket science", therefore we expect many other small local communities to be watching closely and borrowing expertise from B4rn to help bring fibre to their area.