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B4RN East Anglia scheme aims to get communities connected to fast broadband

B4RN East Anglia director David Evans with a piece of fibre optic cable, used for transmitting 1,000Mbps broadband. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

B4RN East Anglia director David Evans with a piece of fibre optic cable, used for transmitting 1,000Mbps broadband. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2017

Rural businesses struggling with sluggish internet speeds will have the chance to take matters into their own hands after the launch of a community-led project in the region.

B4RN East Anglia is a social enterprise which aims to bring together communities to invest in their own fibre-optic cable connections, extending a project which has already proved successful in Lancashire.

It is the latest of several innovative connectivity schemes, such as Archant-backed WiSpire, which uses church towers to provide wi-fi, which business leaders hope will put pressure on larger providers to up their game in connecting rural locations.

The not-for-profit venture has already garnered attention across Norfolk and Suffolk, with nearly 90 parishes showing interest.

Director David Evans said: “The idea is to go where BT [Openreach] don’t go, won’t go or have gone and not reached every part. The idea is that villages and communities get together and decide if the want it and decide the route for the cable.

“Once there is a route they can work out the cost of laying the cable and raise the investment.”

The scheme has its beginnings in Lancashire, as Broadband for the Rural North, and since 2011 has connected 3,400 properties.

The East Anglian scheme will connect to B4RN’s fibre network via a line from London which will run along the A143 to Billingford, near Diss, then on to Lowestoft.

Initially the project will connect Scole, Kirby Cane and Horringer, with broadband expected to come online by the end of the year, with the aim of spreading out from south Norfolk. Neighbouring villages can then connect by laying a cable to their community.

B4RN East Anglia regional director Michael Davey said there were benefits for businesses investing. “In Lancashire there are businesses which have been able to move out of the cities into the countryside, and that provides a much better working lifestyle. Tourism businesses have seen an opportunity, are able to advertise themselves as having fast broadband and can charge more.”

Norfolk Chamber chief executive Chris Sargisson said projects like B4RN could influence other providers. “Alternative, community-driven enterprises like B4RN may provide not only a cost-effective solution but also can be seen as competition, acting as a catalyst for the larger providers to offer solutions quicker,” he said.

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