A good broadband connection is seen my many as an essential service; a fourth utility if you like, after water, gas and electricity. Having this service available can enable many things such as:-
- Online shopping and banking.
- Working from home and reduced carbon footprint.
- Communicating with distant friend and family.
- Online training.
- Internet TV and video.
This area of the site will document some of the various stories and experiences where broadband has made a positive difference to somebody’s life, or inversely where not having broadband has impacted things. The posts will be from anyone who would like to contribute; B4RN Committee Members, Community Members, Industry Commentators, Journalists or any Guest that has a story to share.
If you have a story, experience or thoughts that you would like to share, we would love to hear it! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll publish it.
Views expressed in this section are ones of the post author and not necessarily that of B4RN.
Another guest post from recently connected Monica Lee from Quernmore near Lancaster. This is another excellent post for prospective customers as Monica goes into detail around subjects such as preparing for the service, receiving the service, using the service, cancelling existing service amongst other things such as a VOIP phone provider and future IP webcam installation.
Thanks to Monica for taking the time to provide some valuable feedback.
By Monica Lee, 9th April 2013.
We live in the fells of rural Lancashire. A few weeks ago we lived without access to mains water and with a rather dodgy phone connection. We have satellite TV (terrestrial TV signal is poor here) and a reasonable mobile signal so long as we find just the right spot to pick it up. Actually, I exaggerate. Our mobile is OK outside the house and on the higher ground, though that of our neighbours in a nearby village is non-existent.
A few days ago our water company brought us into the 20th century by connecting us to the mains supply. This is the story of how we have also joined the 21st century.
We were initially on a dial-up connection and moved to BT Broadband when it came available. It has improved slowly, but the very best we could get was 1Mbs download and 0.5Mbps upload. This is because we live some way from the BT cabinet, and we are joined to it by 3 miles of copper wires – signals just do not travel through all that copper very well. The only way to have a secure future-proof connection that won’t degrade is to use fibre. So – we became actively engaged in the B4RN project out of both self-interest and community spirit (because the money and jobs that are generated will all go straight back into the community).
The attraction of B4RN. By putting in a fibre connection all the way to the home, B4RN offered 1000Mbps upload and download – and at £30 per month, it costs much less than we were paying to BT. We registered our interest and became early shareholders – this was not necessary to get the connection, but we wanted to show our support for the project. As the digging in of the core route came nearer to us we started to plan where we wanted our house connection to go, and where (and how) we would dig it in. We also wanted a CCTV camera in a small barn further up our lane, mainly as a security measure (keeping an eye of traffic) but so that it can also be used to keep an eye on our sheep during lambing time.
Getting connected. The core route comes through an inspection chamber in one of our fields, so we knew our start point. We had to decide where we wanted the fibre to enter the house, thereby fixing the end point. We talked this over with B4RN volunteers and got some advice and ducting from them, and started digging! We started well in advance, so there was no pressure, which was good because laying the duct through the garden was much more fiddly than in the field! B4RN volunteers came and fixed the connection box inside the house where we wanted it, and a few days later more volunteers turned up to blow the fibre through and set up our connections. We were very impressed by the helpfulness and competence of the B4RN volunteers – the whole process went very smoothly.
If we had been on a long term contract with BT we could have chosen not to take B4RN service until that had ended, but we wanted to be connected immediately. We did have to wait a little, because although we were connected at our end, more connections had to be made further down the line before we could get service – but eventually we went live and all the lights started flashing! So exciting! We run the computers in the house on a local network, with a network printer, but they all plugged straight into the B4RN box with absolute ease. Everything runs very, very quickly. My husband posted on FaceBook: “I used to have plenty of time to make a cup of tea whilst downloading BBC 4′s Drama of the Week, a good five or ten minutes in the old BT ‘broadband’ days. I have just tried downloading another one, but unfortunately I blinked at the wrong time and so I have no idea how long it took.”
Cancelling BT Broadband. By far the most frustrating part of this process so far has been cancelling our subscription to BT Broadband. There seems to be no other means to cancel an account other than by phone, and the phone number is hard to find. Once found I got a rather forceful and cheery guy at the other end who said with utter conviction that he was sure that BT could match the broadband speed of whatever I was moving to. He then took a good half hour to try and persuade me not to move, before he finally did terminate my broadband account as requested. In brief, I explained we were going to fibre to the home and he said that BT would be very shortly putting fibre in all their cabinets and I would easily get 25 to 60 Mbps. I pointed out that fibre to the cabinet is not the same as fibre to the home, that 25 Mbps is much less than 1000 Mbps, and that, because we are so far from the cabinet we would only get a maximum of 2 Mbps. He pointed out, politely, that I did not know what I was talking about, and that I just had to wait for BT Infinity and I would get an amazing service. I pointed out that I did know what I was talking about and that as we were 3 miles away from the BT cabinet it was technologically impossible for us to get 25 Mbps from them. (The absolute maximum theoretical limit for three miles of copper wire is less than 5 Mbps). He promised me that this was not the case and I would very shortly get the full benefit of BT Infinity if I stayed with them.
How I wish I had been taping that conversation and had held him to his promise. I did point out that he was in danger of misrepresentation or mis-selling, but that did not quell his enthusiasm. He asked how much B4RN charged; I said £30 per month; he promised BT would give me the same service for £29.99. I was almost tempted to take him up on it, but told myself firmly that I did not want the months of hassle as they completely failed to deliver. One final step increased my desire to leave BT. He told me that I would be charged an extra £30 which he said was what it would cost BT to get a man to go all the way out to the exchange and physically unplug my broadband connection and go all the way home again. I queried this as I thought it was just a flick of a switch that could be done remotely and at any time, but he was not having any of it. I agreed to pay the extra cost and he finally cancelled my BT Broadband!
Sorting out the phones. Although I cancelled the broadband, I did not cancel the BT phone line immediately. If you cancel the service without transferring it you can’t keep your old phone number, and also I wanted to be sure the systems would work first. B4RN intends to offer its own VOIP phone service in the future, but, as it relies on volunteer labour at present and everyone is fully stretched, B4RN is concentrating on getting the network up and running first. VOIP is when the phone runs through the broadband instead of the traditional phone-lines, so it tends to be cheaper and does not suffer the interference to which phone lines are subject. I considered several VOIP providers, and eventually went with Vonage a couple of weeks ago. I went for their cheapest package which costs £3.99 for the first 3 months then £5.99 a month after that. All UK landline calls are free, and mobile and international calls are at reduced rates. I applied on-line, and had to choose a new, temporary, phone number. Activation of the account costs a little less than £20. They sent me a little box which I plugged directly into the base of my B4RN box. The telephone connector that had gone into the old BT telephone socket plugged into the Vonage box – and the telephones are all working again. The sound is very clear – no crackles at all over the fibre network. I left it for a few days in case it stopped working, but so far all is excellent, so I have just asked Vonage to change my temporary number to my old permanent number. I trust this will all go smoothly – watch this space!
Next tasks. Next on the list is to sort out the TV. Changing the broadband and phones will save us a fair amount of money, and it would be good to pick up all the free channels that are available over the internet. We would save the Sky subscription, though we will still need a TV licence. We do want the ability to pause, freeze, record and play back programmes that we have got used to with Sky, so we will need to do some more research into what is available.
CCTV. We have not yet got round to installing a CCTV camera – though the connection is now there to do so. The hardware seems to be quite cheap, though we will have to research how to set it up and work it!
Updating equipment. I did run some speed tests and it was soon clear that the speed is limited by our equipment, not the broadband connection. The Vonage instructions tell you to plug your computer into the Vonage box, and then the box into the router, but the B4RN router is set up so that both the computer and the Vonage box can be plugged directly into it, and it is much faster that way. Things also went faster when I changed my old Cat.5 computer cable for a newer Cat.6 cable (which cost the grand sum of £1.42, including postage, from EBay). However, the component in my computer that is really slowing it down now is my network card, which will only go at 100Mbps. Despite that the network is going so fast that we would hardly notice it going any faster, as I can watch whatever I want on my computer without any downloading lag. It is, however, really good to know that when we next buy a new computer, or an internet ready TV or whatever, that the B4RN network will have ample speed to be able to handle whatever we throw at it.
The B4RN community has been busy lately connecting new customers along the ever growing core route. Some great good news stories have been coming out from many of the newly connected customers about how the B4RN connection has affected them. Some have shared their views on the Facebook page and others have sent a few words to our guest blog page wanting to share their experiences with the rest of the community.
Many words have been said about the benefits of a fast a reliable connection by the B4RN team and the media but the ones that come from customers who are experiencing first hand what the connection means to them are much more insightful.
Here’s the latest one from Andy Pearson resident of Arkholme, one of the best connected villages in the world. Thanks to Andy for taking the time to share his experience with other members of the community. Over to Andy.
The process, when it happened, was very quick and easy. Provide the power to the ‘box on the wall’ and watch as the green lights on the top illuminate. Bingo! One of the fastest domestic Internet connections available anywhere and on a different planet to anything the incumbent supplier can offer.
I remembered what Bill Clinton said when he got the presidency “I feel like the dog that chases the garbage truck and finally catches it. Now what do I do?”
I feel a bit like that dog too.
First thing to do was to connect all the gadgets we’ve got. One old MacBook laptop, one old windows PC, two iPads, two smartphones, an iPod touch and an Internet radio. All at once.
It worked. No more spinning beach balls, no more waiting for the hourglass to go away. They can all simultaneously place demands on the new system and it copes. Full of enthusiasm I did a speed test. I expected to get a really high number and was quite disappointed when I didn’t. I got ‘only’ 19MBs on my laptop using an Ethernet connection. Now, to keep that in context, I ran a check on the still functioning incumbent Internet supplier (you can guess who) and got the usual 0.46MBs result. So straight away B4RN is about 40 times better. Worried that my new service wasn’t as quick as it was cracked up to be I borrowed a teenager (hello Jasmine) who owns a new MacBook Air. Straight away she got a speed test result on the WiFi of over 90MBs. So the good news (I think) was that my gear was old and simply couldn’t take advantage of the new lightning fast speeds available. Best I start saving up for something more modern. Worth reiterating though that I’m still 40 times faster now, even with my ancient gear, and there’s no buffering to spoil videos any more.
Next thing to do was sort out the telephone line. Being charged sixteen odd quid ‘line rental’ every month for a rotten old copper wire has always struck me as spectacularly poor value for money. Now that the line was no longer needed for the Internet I thought why bother with it at all? Bit of a no brainer really. So we have moved over to Voice Over Internet Protocol, or VOIP as it’s known and now use the Internet for phone calls. A Google search reveals loads of providers and the likelihood is that they all come out at about the same price for a domestic user. It’s likely too that either you’ll need new phones (Digital European Cordless Telecommunications, DECT phones) or, like us, a box that allows you to use your existing phones. Whichever company you choose will supply all that you need and once again it’s a very simple business to set it up and get going. They gave us a new phone number (05603 xxx xxx) and apart from that it’s just like it always was. Only cheaper, and not as crackly.
That’s it for now. A bit of new equipment, a bit of electronic ‘paperwork’, a new phone number and a much much faster Internet all costing less on a monthly basis. Happy days. For the future we’ll need to upgrade our computers and investigate how to get Internet onto our TV so that we can make use of BBC iPlayer (other channels are available) and film services such as Netflix or LoveFilm.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Internet is changing the way we do things and our patterns of life. Whatever the future brings in this regard, thanks to B4RN we in this area of rural north Lancashire will be able to keep up with the changes and be part of this digital revolution.
Yesterday our new blowing machine arrived. This is due to the sponsorship of three B4RN members, who have bought it in memory of Anton.
Anton was very proud of the project and wanted to buy something to help it succeed. Well it worked a treat Anton, and we’ll soon get caught up with the farmers digging all the ducting in now we have our own blower. Here is a short 2 minute video of it being tried out yesterday, in appalling conditions. We kidnapped the demo man (Pete) who showed us all the tricks of the trade. He stayed all day, finally escaping once we knew the fibre had made it all the way to the hub. Many thanks Anton and Pete, and well done to Bruce and Tom for their persistance in working no matter what the weather to JFDI for us all.
Here’s a lovely guest post from David Smith, one of the coordinators and B4RN Team at Arkholme, a rural village in north Lancashire. As regular visitors to the B4RN site will have seen, David and his fellow community members have been working hard come rain of shine laying the core B4RN duct. In David’s own words, here’s how it all started.
Arrived home from 10 days in Malta well rested. Within 2 hours Chris Conder on phone, ”we’re starting the dig tomorrow, can you organise helpers!!”
Well from that day for two weeks, the community has rallied round and despite the awful weather has succeeded in laying the core duct from the village hall to the Geo breakout point.
Helpers have been supplied with tea and food and kept working hard by Chris. [I know the feeling! - Ed]. First houses could be live by end October. Meeting in Bay Horse pub this week found a couple of dozen residents well up for the next stage of dig around village. We’ll do this!
Power up the tea urn and bake the cakes, Arkholme forge ahead with the dig.
B4RN goes Forth, JFDI FTTH
The Narr Lodge group of four barn conversions lies just east of The Hub at Quernmore, and the main ducting has been dug into the fields behind the houses earlier this year. The B4RN team were out a couple of weeks later with a digger siting an access chamber so the houses could take a duct off to each property. Tim Dawson, one of the Narr Lodge residents, was there to see the team at work.
“Installing the chamber is not rocket science. The digger bit into the ground near where the main trunking lay and after a couple of minutes battling through the stones, soon carved a clean square ready for the 3 oblong bases and concrete top bearing the “B4RN” logo”.
D-Day for Narr Lodge
With the access chamber sited, the residents joined together on a Saturday to lay ducting to the houses. The sun shone for Dig-Day, which must be a good omen given this summer’s weather. Tim recounts, “We had put a lot of thought into the best way to get the ducting through to the houses with minimum disruption. We always knew the last 20m into the house was probably going to be one of the most difficult bits particularly since most developers don’t have the foresight to lay spare ducting for future services. We thought we might be able to re-use the ducting for the Sky cables to feed the houses on the North side but unfortunately this had collapsed in places and we couldn’t get a clear run. We also somewhat cheekily approached BT’s OpenReach to see if we could use their ducting which lies on our private land and goes to each property. This evidently created enormous confusion at BT, since they couldn’t grasp the concept of private individuals wanting to install their own fibre to the house (FTTH). After a flurry of emails and some long pauses we got stone-walled and took that as a ‘No’.
“Then it occurred to us that the surface water drains run from each of the North side houses to the beck near the access chamber. The B4RN ducting is waterproof and unlike the foul drains there is little risk of transiting material forming a blockage. It also had the advantage that ducting could easily be run up drain pipes as they come out of the drains for first floor access.”
Dig where you live.
The Narr Lodge D-Dayers laid the orange ducting out on the ground to each property to estimate and cut the required length. The ducts were then bundled into North and South 4′s with cable ties every 2 metres.
The run to the South side houses could only be done via a trench through Tim & Hazel’s garden and down the back of the houses in the field/gardens. There happened to be a digger on site and this trenched to a depth of about 25 cm and the residents laid in the bundled ducting, back filled and re-laid the turf.
OK… the end result would never make it to one of those TV gardening make-over programs but it’ll re-grow. Since we developed our own barn conversion we did have the foresight to duct under the house and into the garden so it was a 10 minute job to run the ducting into the house.
Elsewhere we are splicing the orange ducting into less obtrusive UV resistant black ducting and routing that up the outside of the house though a hole drilled into the wall.
It is worth remembering that when the FTTH box is in the house it has an integral 802.11b/g/n wifi which is pretty fast (300megabit symmetrical). In addition relatively cheap Cat5e or Cat6 cabling can easily be routed internally to take 1000Mbps symmetrical anywhere within the house.
My two daughters love watching things on YouTube and as long as there is not too much other traffic, it works… just! The BBC radio reception in this part of the valley is pretty poor and we tend to rely on internet radio but this needs a good sized buffer and still keeps dropping out.
I checked the broadband speed on a couple of occasions recently during the day. It has reached the heady heights of 1 Mbps on occasion in the last year but recent tests show this is down to 0.4Mbps download and 0.3Mbps upload – nearly symmetrical but hopeless speed for anything serious (see screenshot). I was glad to see the B4RN team installing the access chamber – I can’t imagine what 1000Mbps is going to be like. Certainly the girls are going to love it and keep on asking when are we going to get faster broadband.
1. Even though not every property wishes to be connected at this time, sufficient ducts have been laid to connect all the properties in future.
2. Great example of the B4RN JFDI spirit which reduces the first mile civils’ costs).
3. Many people in the B4RN area are on very low speeds (as described above) with many still limited to dial up or expensive satellites. This is set to change when speeds 3000 times faster are available to many in the next few weeks.
Here is another guest blog kindly submitted by a local resident, Tim from the village of Quernmore who unfortunately has a broken leg, (get well soon!). The spare time has highlighted even more than before the fact that the internet connection is inadequate. Anyhow, many thanks for the post, over to Tim.
Narr Lodge gets its B4RN 1000Mbps inspection chamber.
I suppose one good thing about being intermittently off work with a broken leg (don’t ask!) is that you get to see exciting developments like the digging in of the B4RN inspection chamber serving our group of houses. One of the many down sides is that you spend more time on the internet getting frustrated with the rural broadband speeds, however things will impove shortly. The main ducting to the Rec in Quernmore had been dug in a few weeks ago. I could see that it was hard going in the stony ground round here but it passes close to our gate into the field, just the spot for the access chamber. Today (Mon 9th July), the B4RN team Rusty, Bruce and Frank turned up with a mini-digger. For once the weather was kind and the sun shone between fluffy cumulus as we struck earth in front of the gate and got into the stony ground. After battling down to a metre we took the top stone off one of the old stone land drains – STOP!
OK, re-think. After restoring the culvert cap stone, the digger moved a metre and a half to the side and hit better clay soil, the digger easily reaching the required depth and cleaning out a neat square hole. They borrowed my crutch whilst I propped up the gate post, to check the depth against the access chamber – so I did help, a bit. They bedded the bottom plastic chamber module on gravel and dropped the other three on top, topped off by the “B4RN” concrete cover. A bit of backfill and job done! It isn’t rocket science but the logistics and routing have required tremendous planning by the B4RN team. This week we’re going to trench up the garden, about 30cm deep, split into north and south branches to run ducting to the back of the houses. Then all we have to do is wait for the fibre and communication at the speed of light.
Photos of the access chamber being dug in.
Rural Broadband is very much in the news recently, debates are happening everywhere as to what is the best way to deliver the UK’s next Generation Access and there are many different views, all with their supporting arguments.
B4RN is currently deploying a 1000Mbs fibre optic network to a deeply rural area East of Lancaster. We have had excellent support from many areas, but one person that has been B4RNstorming in Westminster is local MP Eric Ollernshaw. He attended the launch event where he had discussions with many of the committee members and more importantly the community and has really taken on the cause of the project.
He has mentioned B4RN in various debates in the past when the opportunity has arisen, however most recently, in the Oral Questions to Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport) that took place in the House of Commons on June 14th 2012, Mr Ollerenshaw asked Mr Hunt if, “would be prepared to meet the Broadband for the Rural North community group”, to which the response was, “certainly I or the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr Vaizey, would be delighted to meet him and his constituents”. The full Hansard transcript can be seen here.
We would like to echo Mr Ollerenshaw’s invitation. Mr Hunt and Mr Vaizey are more welcome to come and see what the community of the Lancashire Lune Valley are doing. We will show them our ducting work, village hub cabinets, fibre optic cable splicing but most importantly our enthusiasm to get the job done and provide this part of Lancashire with a world class broadband service.
Oh yes, and of course it goes without saying, there will be cake!
So come on Mr Hunt, when are you coming to see B4RN?
UPDATE: nearly 12 months later, and eventually our fantastic MP Eric gets the ‘new’ secretary of state to come and visit. See a-grand-day-out
Sometimes it’s quite hard to understand all the megabits and gigabits so a visual representation of what the different broadband speeds and services would be quite useful.
Well it so happens that Fibre To The Home Council have created a handy little simulation tool that allows you to enter your current speeds for upload and download then select a scenario for broadband use such as downloading a film, uploading photos and so on. Clicking on the “Start” button will commence a simulation of how fast (or slow) the upload and download will be on the various different services in comparison to your own. The following image shows the final result from a previous test.
The closest match to the B4RN service is “FTTH Advanced”, however this is 700Mbs upload and B4RNs will be 1Gbs (1000Mbs), so in other words, better than the best on this page.
You can try the simulation for yourself by following this link. The speed comparisons really are amazing.
Special for Valentines day, sponsor a metre for your sweetheart and get your message on the duct!
During a conversation with Ken Fallon on a radio podcast the idea of sponsorship was born. The plan so far, is that for a donation of £5 you can sponsor a metre of our fibre duct. In return we put your name on a metre of duct and take a photo of it. Your metre of the B4RN network with your name on it will be buried on a Lancashire upland farm for posterity, and your generosity will enable another metre to be laid in our community network.
Our minimum shareholding in B4RN is £100, and that is too much for some people, and we have been asked if we could allow smaller donations. We had a think, and we put a donate button on the site where you can donate anything you like, from a pound or a dollar to a million…
There is a button on the right hand side of this page, you can pay with PayPal and a photo gallery will be published with all the names on. We are about to lay another 500 metre stretch of the very fat duct next week going into the hub, so if you want your name on that act quickly. The smaller duct is being laid all the time, but the fat one is the best because we can write your name much bigger!
If you want extra metres then please email us the names you want on it when you have donated. Why not buy a family batch? Special offer, 5 names for £20.
Rather than a person’s name, you may want the name of your business to be on the duct and the photo gallery. If you do then that’s fine too.
Why not buy a metre now, and support this brilliant community initiative?
Another of our little videos here, you could always sponsor one of those too?
Last week Bruce took photos of an installation to a house. This house has dug to the field boundary, and under the fence, and into the main duct. As you can see from the short video from his photos it is hard work but no harder than planting potatoes! If you get the fibre planted you will harvest a fantastic crop… its a gigabit fibre bringing the world to your door.