This lady farmer helped her neighborhood by building her own broadband Internet connection
One of the major problem in today’s world is slow or negligible Internet connection. This is a bane that hurts poor underdeveloped countries as well as rich developed nations. In most cases, the consumer, that is you can’t do anything till the government or the ISP/mobile company takes the initiative and provides new lines/towers in your area. However, there are some individuals who take it on themselves to solve this prennial Internet connection problems by building their own Broadband station. One such lady farmer from United Kingdom not only solved her own Internet connectivity problems by building her own broadband station but also helped her neighbors.
An act of solving neighbor’s internet connectivity problems by a lady in UK led to the development of B4RN, an Internet Service provider that offers fast one gigabit per second broadband speeds. It provides 35 times faster broadband speeds than the 28.9Mbps average UK speed Internet connection.
The lady in question is Christine Conder, who modestly says, “I am just a farmer’s wife.” It all started in 2009 when the trees that separated Chris’s neighboring farm from its nearest wireless mast – their only connection to the internet, provided by Lancaster University – grew very big.
Chris decided to take matters into her own hands, as something stronger was required, and there were no other options available in the area.
She bought a kilometer of fibre-optic cable and took her farm tractor to dig a channel. The two farms were connected after lighting the cable, with hers serving the one behind the trees.
“We dug it ourselves and we lit [the cable] ourselves and we proved that ordinary people could do it,” she says.
“It wasn’t rocket science. It was three days of hard work.”
Her slogan, which she repeats often in conversation, is JFDI, of which three letters stand for Just Do It. You can work out the fourth one for yourself.
And JFDI she has.
B4RN now states that they have laid 2,000 miles (3,218km) of cable and connected a string of local parishes to its network. Since, it cannot connect a single household, the entire parish has to be on board before it will begin to build.
While each home pays £30 per month with a £150 connection fee, bigger businesses need to pay more. Some of the installation, the households have to carry out themselves.
The complete infrastructure is fibre-optic cable right to the property, rather than just to the cabinet, with current copper phone lines running from that to the home, as basically provided by British Telecom.
The service has gained so much popularity that the company is busy for the next 10 years. People who stay as far as Sierra Leone have attended the open days that it holds a couple of times a year.
Even though there are now 15 paid staff on board, majority of the work is done by volunteers.
Farmers give right to use their land and those with equipment like tractors and diggers do the heavy work. A spokesperson told the BBC these are “standard industry costs” which include a £4,500 fee for surveying, legal fees and a price per meter for the cable installation.
While B4RN still has to make a profit, it should be in a better financial condition once it has paid off its shareholders, even though one of the conditions is that profits must be invested back into the community.
The Queen recognised Chris’s services to rural broadband, who was awarded an MBE in 2015, along with Barry Forde, a retired university lecturer who now leads the co-operative.
Surprisingly, there were several B4RN customers who were dependent on dial-up services or paying high fees for satellite feeds. According to Chris, they are still some who are.
Internet connectivity is important for farmers who need to register online with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) within five days of every calf being born to be able to enter the food chain.
“All the farmers who haven’t got broadband have to rely on land agents or auction marts or public wi-fi spaces which we haven’t got round here either, or paying somebody to do it,” says Chris.
“What the farmers were finding was the dial-up just couldn’t cope with it.
“They bought satellites, but then the children would use all the satellite feed to do their things and then they came to use it at night and there was no feed left, they’d gone over the data and they were being charged a fortune for what they then used.
“So the farmers have been incredibly supportive of this and that’s why they’ve given us free rein throughout the fields, which we go through to connect them and then we get to the villages which subsidise the farmers’ connections.
“You couldn’t do it just for the farmers alone, but you couldn’t get to the village without the farmers so it’s tit for tat.”
There are other self-regulating fibre broadband providers out there, like Gigaclear which serves around 50,000 customers residing in several UK counties and Hyperoptic which is active in 13 cities. They all claim to offer 1Gbps speeds.
“The best way to make sure this country catches up is to support the alternative networks,” says Chris.
“Wherever there’s competition BT will then up their game.
“We can’t do the whole country. [BT, Virgin etc] are good businesses. They are in it to make a profit, that’s what businesses are supposed to do.”
The UK’s largest broadband infrastructure is owned by Openreach, which is currently a division of BT.
“The big picture is that we’ve got a plan, alongside the government, to get to 95% UK fibre coverage,” said Kim Mears, Openreach’s managing director of Infrastructure Delivery.
The provider through its Community Fibre Partnership, which is set up to work in areas that is “hard to reach” has upgraded 90 small communities.
Ms Mears has urged to those having problems with poor connectivity to get in touch.
“There is lots available if communities come together. We are really sitting here waiting to help,” she said.
The author Kavita Iyer
An individual, optimist, homemaker, foodie, a die hard cricket fan and most importantly one who believes in Being Human