I am not sure there can be anybody in the world now who doesn’t know about B4RN, the community-led initiative which is installing 1000Mbps fibre internet connections in North Lancashire, England, particularly after the world-wide publicity generated by its launch day recently (see some of it here).
The farmers and villagers who make up the volunteer membership of B4RN have toiled through wind, rain and snow (and there has been lots of all three over the past 12 months), to lay the fibre cables which have brought hyperfast connectivity to 2 villages so far. It’s been back-breaking, and sometimes soul-destroying, work, as the trenches often fill with water as soon as they are dug. Nevertheless, they have persevered, making much slower progress, than planned, but people are starting to benefit from their remote communities being connected to the 21st Century.
Now they have hit a major snag. The B4RN area is centred on the Lune Valley. That means there is a river at its heart, and they now need to cross it. On the positive side, there is a clear route across the river, which is right in the path the fibre needs to take to reach the communities on the other side, and that is a railway viaduct (pictured above). The problem is that, Network Rail, which owns the viaduct wants a lot of money and a huge amount of regulation and red tape, for B4RN to run its little cable across to the other side.
Photo by Rory Cellan-Jones
Now, I think we can all understand that commercial considerations and health and safety regulations have to apply in these kinds of situations, but B4RN is a not-for-profit, community-owned organisation, which is pioneering in a very difficult endeavour. Network Rail describes itself as a ‘not for shareholder dividend’ company, so you would think it might recognise a similar kind of organisation trying to do good for its members. Surely it also ought to be possible for B4RN to come to some mutually beneficial arrangement with Network Rail, in which the latter gets access to B4RN’s hyperfast connectivity for its own purposes and for signalling. We all know about the high cost of cable theft on the railways, which is caused by people stealing copper cables for their scrap value; fibre has no value in this respect.
So, come on Network Rail, surely you can come to an arrangement here. And, if you are reading this and have any influence over Network Rail at all, please do something to help.