B4RM Computing

Better broadband for north Powys – part 2

Following my previous post about better broadband for north Powys, I tried to do some initial investigation on Facebook to see if this was something that would have enough interest to investigate further. I posted on local pages, mainly for villages in the Tanat valley, asking if people would be interested. Overall I was happy with the responses, and felt it warranted further investigation.

I have been in contact with B4RN to investigating the feasibility of working with them to connect to their existing Cheshire network, to bring high speed broadband to our local area, initially the Tanat valley and maybe the Cain valley areas, but there’s potential for the coverage area to grow.

For context B4RN now cover thousands of properties, over an area from Preston to Tebay and from Carnforth to Settle. That’s like the whole of Montgomeryshire (from several miles north west of Oswestry down past Llanidloes, and from Welshpool to Machynlleth). So that shows that not only is such a scheme possible, but that it can grow to benefit adjacent areas.


What would it cost to build and run such a network?
Initial rough estimates, based on B4RN’s experience are that the build cost of the network to each property is usually in the range of £1500 per property, though this may rise to £2500 for more complex properties
The cost of backhaul connectivity (i.e. connecting out network to the existing network in Cheshire would be around £22,000 per annum.

What would it cost to use?
B4RN’s existing prices are a £150 installation fee (waived if you invest £1500 in shares), then £30 per month.

How many people would be needed to make the scheme viable?
The initial estimate is that 250 properties would be needed for the scheme to be viable. The Tanat valley has around 1400 properties, and a 30% take up would yield 420 properties.

What financial help is available?
There are existing government voucher schemes, both from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and from Welsh government to assist with the costs of installing gigabit broadband. According to the Welsh government Gigabit Broadband voucher scheme web page, “for group projects in Wales up to £5,500 is available per business and up to £800 is available per residential property”. This could cover a large part of the build cost.

What areas would be covered?
Initially the Tanat valley is the area where most opinion has been canvassed. This includes: Llangynog; Hirnant; Penybontfawr; Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant; Rhos-y-Brithdir; Llangedwyn; Pen-y-Bont Llanerch Emrys.
There was also some interest expressed from the Cain valley. This includes: Llanfyllin; Llanfechain; Llansantffraid-Ym-Mechain.

What is needed next?
The next step is to try and get more people interested in the idea, see if we can get advocates, and people to sign up.

B4RM Computing

Better broadband for North Powys

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):

  • Llanwddyn
  • Llanfyllin
  • Llangynog
  • Penybontfawr
  • Llanrhaedr-ym-mochnant
  • Llangedwyn
  • Llanfechain
  • Bwlch-y-cibau
  • Meifod