I’ve lived in Powys for 10 years, and I’ve always had good broadband, as I live only 200 metres from the telephone exchange. This means that I’ve got used to being able to watch Netflix, stream music, backup devices to the cloud, FaceTime people and work from home, connecting back to work.
Many people in Powys aren’t so lucky though. Powys is the most sparsely populated county in England and Wales, and broadband provision is either difficult or impossible.
Soon, I hope to join them, as I’m moving house. The house I’m planning to move to has an estimated broadband speed of 1 Mbps. That’s poor by today’s standards.
There are options to get faster internet connectivity, such as satellite broadband, and subsidies are available (in Wales) to help with installation costs. It seems overly complicated though, it’s often not as fast as good broadband, and it can be quite pricy too.
There is an option though, for better broadband, which is quite radical, but not a pipe dream, and has been done before.
Build it yourself.
Rural Lancashire faces the same connectivity problems as Powys, and for the last 6 years B4RN have been successfully laying fibre optics to households and businesses in the area, providing fast internet connections at a very reasonable price. The best thing is that they distribute their profits to the local community.
How do they do this? In a nutshell they:
- Set up as a community benefit society — a special type of legal entity.
- Raise funding by issuing shares, in a manner which attracts investment from locals and makes investment advantageous for taxation purposes.
- Choose a central point in their coverage area to connect to the internet at a very high speed.
- Get landowners to grant wayleaves for buried cables to cross their land
- Get local volunteers involved to lay fibre optic cables crossing country from the central point to local communities, offering shares in exchange for effort.
- Offer fast internet connectivity to everyone in the community, at very reasonable prices.
B4RN have been doing this since 2001, and have been making a success of it.
To provide a comparison, I currently pay £39 per month for line rental and 80(ish) Mbps internet connectivity. When I move, I expect to pay £25 per month for line rental and 1(ish) Mbps internet connectivity. B4RN currently offer their customers 1000 Mbps internet connectivity for £150 installation charge, plus £30 per month.
I don’t see any reason why something similar to what B4RN are doing in Lancashire couldn’t be done in North Powys.
What’s needed is for people to express their serious interest, whether that’s interest in investing in a community benefit scheme, interest in being a potential customer, interest in helping build it, or interest in general.
So, who’s interested?
If you’re interested in translating this article in to Welsh I’d love to hear from you.
Want to see someone else’s experience of B4RN? Have a look at this article.
Finally, what areas this might benefit from this (not an exhaustive list):