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DIY broadband in northern England

There's proposed legislation in the state of Georgia that would effectively stop cities and counties from providing fast internet connections, the way they provide sewer service or other utilities. If even one household already has a broadband connection in a local area, then the municipality would be prevented from building its own system.

The fight is not just in Georgia, it's nationwide. After the telephone and cable companies declined to build a fast fiber optic network in Lafayette, Louisiana, the city built its own. That's at least one victory for municipalities, but Internet companies have been fighting these public broadband networks and have won outright bans in some states.

Across the Atlantic in rural Britain, residents of the village Arkholme in Northern Lancashire were told it would be too expensive to bring high-speed internet to the community. So, they're building a fiber optic network by themselves. It's called "Broadband for the Rural North", known by the acronym BARN.

Drawing on some local tech expertise, residents got training in how to do it. Retired art teacher Harry Ball is now hooked up to an internet connection fast enough to watch movies on.

"Because it's so sparsely populated, nobody wanted to give us a decent broadband, and why would they? There's no money in it for them," says Ball. "A lot of local people decided if we wanted it, we were going to have to get it ourselves."

The project gives new meaning to the do-it-yourself trend. Area residents teamed up to dig trenches, lay their own fiber optic cables and connect each and every household.

"It's been a wonderful community experience because people have really, really come together," says Ball.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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The cost to place fiber new is not really much more then copper cable. The cost is placing it in established neighborhoods around fences and driveways. In the past the upfront costs for the equipment was very high . You needed splicing trailer because you needed a very clean environment. The equipment that fused the fiber together might cost $40k. Now that equipment is less then $5k and is 3 times as precise as the expensive equipment. Some of the new equipment can work off of batteries and you can use it in the dirt pit where the splice is located. The most important factor in fiber splicing is a Tech that is neat because big fiber splices can easily become that ball of string you put in the kitchen drawer.

The rural communities just need to do what JT Flywheel described in his Kentucky community.

East Central Vermont Fiber Network (ECF), is a grassroots effort to bring FTTH to every residence and business in 23 of the towns located in Central Vermont. Our approach is a bit different from Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN) as we don't depend as much on volunteer help, otherwise we are very similar to one another. Last year, one of the B4RN folks was visiting the US and gave a presentation on their project to our governing board and while they were visiting the UK, our project manager and project coordinator visited B4RN's leadership to share notes. Both groups have experienced resistance from the big telecoms and neither has received any financial assistance from our respective governments, but we persevere and each group is enjoying a fair measure of success in reaching its goals.

At about 2:54 this guy says he gets 250mb / sec. That's credible b/c he's on pure fiber to a trunk line. Unless you live in a really unusual place in the US, you're not getting 250mb/sec - the only technology that delivers that is fiber to the home (ftth) and that's really rare - you'd need to be in one of those place Google wired up, or in a similar community to Arkholme where the local municipality did it or in very rare Verizion FIOS territory.

Is that what you've got Brancaccio or did you just accidentally lump your 15mbps cable connection in with this guys 250mbps fiber and really kind of insult their extraordinary effort?

I live in Jackson County Kentucky, running a small professional business in one of the poorest regions in our state in terms of per capita income. Our local cooperative started as a telephone service just after WW II. Peoples Rural Telephone Coop is now just finishing installation of fiberoptic, broadband service to virtually all its member customers. in Jackson and Owsley Counties. It could be the most significant progressive step ever taken in our area, at least since electrification in 1934.

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