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B4RN breaks ground on rural broadband network in East Anglia

Community ultrafast fibre broadband organisation B4RN East Anglia has started work on its first dig in Norfolk

Villagers in isolated rural parts of East Anglia will get their first taste of ultrafast, gigabit fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband in the new year after community broadband organisation B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) broke ground on its first network dig in Norfolk this week.

The B4RN East Anglia project will centre at first on properties around the villages of Scole and Billingford, which lie about 19 miles south of Norwich, along the border with Suffolk.

Launched in 2011, Lancashire-based non-profit B4RN has generated significant public interest over the past six years thanks to its approach to broadband network digs, which differ from those spearheaded by more conventional altnets in that it relies on volunteer work from local residents and encourages people to literally dig out their own ducts.

“B4RN was created entirely from the needs of the community, from people coming together and saying enough is enough, we’ve got to do something about rural broadband,” said B4RN East Anglia regional director Michael Davey. “B4RN East Anglia was what the community set up to deliver it to this region.

“We talk about the other gig economy – what we mean is how Gigabit broadband will change the rural economies for the better.

“For example, it means the rural hospitality industry can have better broadband than city centre hotels, rural residents can work from home and have the opportunity to start up their own businesses, and it enables a 21st-century cottage industry so people and jobs don’t need to migrate to the cities.”

B4RN’s first dig in the east of England saw locals turn out in force despite heavy snowfall to mark the beginning of the network build-out, which will eventually deliver broadband speeds of 1Gbps – between 40 and 1,000 times faster than most people in the region can receive.

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“The reason B4RN works is that the communities and farmers work together,” said Dave Evans, B4RN East Anglia regional director. “Over 130 villages in this region have expressed an interest in implementing a B4RN project.

“We are now concentrating on getting the network live in Scole Community Centre so that people can come and experience the hyperfast speeds for themselves. In September, we opened funding pots for Thelveton, Shimpling and Gissing villages. These villages are now racing to be the first to meet their funding target and start their own build-outs. We have also opened a general funding pot for those that want to support the initiative.”

Clive Blakesley, chairman of Scole Community Centre, added: “We are hoping to offer a wider range of activities at the community centre enabled by the broadband, such as introducing gaming evenings for the local children and providing decent broadband for meetings and events.”

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