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The farmer who built her own broadband (bbc.com)
278 points by velodrome 296 days ago | hide | past | web | 82 comments | favorite



This video goes into some of the details:

B4RN Launch Event Presentation, 2012 (with CEO Barry Forde) https://youtu.be/LmzvzT9Qd58

  00:27 What is the problem?
  02:35 Does it matter?
  03:46 VIDEO Cabinet Office: Director of Digital Engagement
  05:03 VIDEO Google Fibre Kansas City project
  06:08 Solutions
  07:07 Community Initiative
  08:07 It needn't be complicated
  09:37 Cost (laying and connecting the cable)
  10:46 Community Involvement
  14:25 Skills (laying and connecting the cable)
  15:56 How? (laying and connecting the cable)
  17:36 VIDEO Mole Ploughing (JFDIT)
  18:36 Numbers (parishes, routes, distances)
  20:43 Phase 1 Map
  12:12 Broadband for the Rural North Ltd
  22:31 Building it
  ---- FUNDRAISING
  25:05 Membership (Mutual Society)
  26:34 Funding the build out
  27:35 Type "A" shares
  28:04 Type "B" shares
  28:40 Enterprise Initiative Scheme (EIS)
  30:01 Holding Shares 1
  31:14 Holding Shares 2
  31:48 Holding Shares 3
  32:38 Incentives to Invest
  34:14 CLOSE


Worth reading Tim Wu's "The Master Switch". He has a chapter that discusses the early history of wiring up the United States for telephony and how in the 1890s many of the early telephone lines in rural America were run by farmers (based on cheap "squirrel line" wire often just nailed to existing fence lines).

This is followed by the inevitable buy out of these rural telcos and the even more inevitable shuttering of what (for AT&T) was unprofitable business.

Wu, T. (2010). The master switch: the rise and fall of information empires (pp. 48-49). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


On a related note "Victorian Internet" is also a good read regarding developing and wiring up for telegraphy.


It's funny, there's some cycle, a DIY friendly period, heavily regulated, then back to DIY pressure.


If only the telcos here weren't so corrupt we could have more municipal fiber projects. Yes I'm looking at you Comcast.


There are a few places where state laws are getting in the way of municipal fiber, but that really isn't the explanation. After all, why isn't fiber getting built in Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Jose, or Seattle? Is some Philadelphia company really more politically connected on Google, Microsoft, etc.'s home turf?

And how do you explain the lack of fiber in Baltimore and Los Angeles? Those cities have been aggressively trying to get someone to build municipal fiber. No state laws are standing in the way. Still, nobody will do it.


All of the explanations are easy: It costs a lot of money to build a physical last-mile network that serves a large number of subscribers. Municipal broadband projects would, rightly (in my opinion), be expected to serve the entire city that's funding such a project but that build out would be expensive. Cities with city-owned electrical systems, like Seattle, can mitigate some of the costs by having their power operator run the physical wires through city-owned conduit. But, let's take Seattle as an example, not every part of the city has city-owned conduit and several discrete parts of the city have buried utilities that aren't even in conduit.

All of that work has to be paid for and most large cities have other pressing budget needs. There's a movement in Seattle to get municipal broadband done in Seattle but it is slow-moving because, again, money.

(Nothing in Washington State law prohibits a city from running its own Internet/cable/phone system. The RCW that a lot of people, falsely, quote as banning muni broadband in WA only applies to public utility districts. Tacoma has its own municipal system, called Click!, that seems to be well-received.)


The same thing is true in Baltimore (and really, most cities). The city has no money--no lobbying needed to preclude municipal broadband.


> why isn't fiber getting built in San Francisco,

Because SF is notoriously corrupt. The city government doesn't give a shit about the citizenry; it's all a question of who can do whom favors and help in their next election.

// sf resident


It's not far fetched to believe that San Francisco is corrupt. But it's pretty far fetched to believe that it's corrupt in a way that's contrary to the financial interests of deep-pocketed local businesses like Google, etc. That'd be like Houston favoring out of state companies over its local oil and gas industry. It doesn't make any sense as an explanation for the lack of fiber in SF and the surrounding suburbs.


> financial interests of deep-pocketed local businesses like Google, etc.

I'm sorry, but Google isn't going to slip someone envelopes full of money. Here's a starter, if you want to read more: http://www.sfexaminer.com/new-details-political-corruption-c...


Is anyone who is opposed to municipal fiber going to slip someone envelopes full of money?


Is it in the interest of deep pocked local business for housing to be so expensive?


No, but few people think that anti-development regulations in San Francisco are the product of corruption and lobbying by big business, which is the allegation with regard to municipal fiber above.


It's largely bureaucracy and NIMBYs. The regulations in CA and specifically SF are ridiculous.


I thought during the years or Enron they laid millions in dark fiber under places like Portland and yet because Verizon and Comcast and others carved up neighborhoods.


Corrupt? They all follow the law.

The problem may be the way the laws get enacted. What might be considered very corrupt in one country is just how business is done in the USA.


> What might be considered very corrupt in one country is just how business is done in the USA.

The definition of corruption is not dependent upon legal status. The wikipedia article on "Corruption" has an entire (and rather long) section that is entitled "Legal corruption".


Found the Comcast shareholder....

They literally lobby to make the laws.


Excuse me, but is it not the lawmakers that are corrupt? They are the ones buying their argument (or taking their cash/benefits) and creating moats (regulatory capture and what not) for them.


Corrupt transactions are corrupt for both parties involved.


Lobbying is legal though, and is a tool used by charities/public interest advocates as well as big corporations.


Yes but the difference is that what's called "lobbying" in the US often consists of what most other governments consider "bribery".


Literal quid-pro-quo bribery is illegal and people go to jail for it.

I get that you are talking about other corrupt phenomena, but we need a different word than bribery because I've run into way too many people who think our corruption problem comes from bribery.

We also need a better way for elected officials to be able to tap into citizen expertise rather than just the slice of it which is sponsored by a rent-seeking profit motive.


Make no mistake Citizens United legalized bribery you just have to wink a say it's a "campaign contribution". Everyone involved knows what it really is. Unless you actually believe that the fact that politicians pass laws that are extremely favorable to firms while receiving millions from them is unrelated, if you do I have a bridge for sale.


Citizens United was not about campaign contributions. It was about whether or not a corporation could use its funds to create materials denouncing (or praising) a candidate for office.

Summary: http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/citizens-united-v...

Full 183 page opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-205.pdf


My mistake I meant to also include McCutcheon v. FEC in my comment. Citizens United only got that ball rolling.


TIL, thank you.


Sure, I agree with that. The parent should have been more clear on the point they were trying to make. Leaving a exasperated comment about how Comcast lobbies to influence the law doesn't make sense, because everyone on both sides of the broadband debate uses lobbying to their advantage. We don't have politicians who are experts in every field, and they rely on outside help to inform them.


Source, particularly for the "often" part?


> Corrupt? They all follow the law.

These things are not mutually exclusive, particularly when the corruption has resulted in changes to the law.


These stories from the uk are great, but i envy their soil. Im in BC with mountains and rock. Running a cable through or over 100m of granite is horribly difficult, as too is digging a path through rainforest roots. And dont get me started on distances. The uk seems a sandbox in comparison to running broadbad in rural bc. I just installed a dish on a property because the nearest broadband/cell tower was only 800m away... 150m vertical of forest and rock blocking any good signal. Sats will be around here for a long while.


I remember the feeling of confusion when digging trenches manually. Roots where the most difficult part, their less predictable than rocks to break.


Is stringing outdoor-rated fibre from tree to tree or ad-hoc utility poles viable, or are there issues doing that in crown land?


Poles Å•equire setbacks, cutting lots of trees. Even then, it isnt easy to mount a pole on bare rock. That needs an engineered tower bolted in place. Is it even possible to hang fiber? Ive never seen it done.


Beats me: I don't know anything about this topic, and was hoping to learn by asking you :)


Yes, you can hang fiber, it's called aerial fiber.


My mother lives out in the boonies of rural Oklahoma, and until about five years ago, had to make-do with 28.8 (on a good day) dialup.

She now has up-to-3Mbps/1Mbps via a WiMax antenna on the roof, pointed at another antenna on the water tower of the nearest "town" a few miles away. For this, she pays $65/month.

It's expensive, but it's her only option. If she lived just a few miles in another direction, she could get these awesome DSL prices (from her ISP's website):

"Extreme Package = 5 Meg bps at $84.95 per month

Premium Package = 3 Meg bps at $64.95 per month

Gold Package = 2 Meg bps at $54.95 per month

Silver Package = 1.5 Meg bps at $44.95 per month

Bronze Package = 512 Kbps at $27.95 per month"



Probably not, Sprint doesn't have the greatest coverage, especially not in 'the boonies of rural Oklahoma.' That's a pretty neat trick though... (tax deductible, unlimited wireless hotspot for $500/year!)


Good heavens! Thanks


If it was really important to her, she could use TV White Space for less than $6500 in equipment costs, assuming that whoever controls the water tower would be okay with installing a base station. She could get 60mbps raw rate UDP (or 30mbps if two adjacent channels are not available in her area, but they probably would be).


She's on retirement income, $65/month is barely justifiable. Fortunately for her needs, 2-3Mbps is adequate.


I've seen firsthand how difficult and time-consuming the buildout is of Google and AT&T fiber is in Atlanta. Idle fiber runs just 100 yards from my house, where it's been sitting for months. Just for this single run it's required dozens of people, traffic permits, closed roads, sidewalk repair, new access panels embedded in sidewalk, let alone pulling the fiber itself.

At the phone poles there are large devices (repeaters?) and I assume more equipment at the nearest colo.

This is all on a street that already had a lot of infrastructure and easy access. I haven't seen a single run through people's backyards in a hilly, densely populated neighborhood. It's going to be difficult.

I'm in awe of what this woman and others like her have done.


> At the phone poles there are large devices (repeaters?) and I assume more equipment at the nearest colo.

Fiber networks don't use repeaters out in the field. It may have been a (large) splice enclosure or some non-fiber equipment.


I love this.

I have to pay Comcast for TV when I just want internet, that'd be bad enough but my parents pay 2x more for 20x slower connection (5mb/100b).

Kinda inspired me to talk to some of my neighbors and ask if they'd like to share internet.


Just make sure you use an Internet connection that allows sharing. Residential connections can't be shared.


So, they had to have access to the backbone somehow. Is this possible for an individual rural location? Or even a small community in the U.S.? Do backbone providers have to give you access? Are the rates at all reasonable?


B4RN connects to the Internet backbones in Manchester, some 70 miles away. While it is possible in rural locations to do the same, rural locations do not have many access points, very few providers to select from and no Internet Exchanges.

Backbone providers don't have to give you access, but they will sell to you, provided there is a way to connect you.

Backbone providers sell you IP transit, which is a very competitive market in well connected locations. The problem is to get to those well connected locations. You often pay far more (like 10x) for the transport to that location than for the actual IP transit.


I think there's something really endearing about this, I love the idea of a group of people coming together to effectively bootstrap their own ISP


As she is a service provider, does she have to provide a GCHQ backdoor into her own internet?


I've run a small ISP for the past 14 years. Men in black suits and mirrored sunglasses never showed up (actually they did show up, but for an unrelated issue..)


Let me guess, you're not allowed to talk about it?


To the extent you are allowed to talk about it, it would be cool to hear the story.


DIY broadband. Can that happen in the US of A?


Totally. My cousin and her husband are moving from the Wesley Chapel area of Tampa (where they had 100Mb up/down at my uncle's house) about 20 miles north to 1000 acres of rural farmland, where no connectivity options exist. We're using two 65 foot self supporting towers and $400 worth of point to point Ubiquiti wifi gear to bring 100Mb to their property.

The difficulty level goes up if you want to run copper, coax, or fiber, but it too can be done. Just google "community broadband", "municipal broadband", or "broadband coop".


I believe what he meant was that this would be against the TOS of many providers. You are essentially buying a service plan for one location and distributing it. While I would agree that "if I am buying 100mbps than I should be able to use it how I wish" unfortunately just isn't the case and not how u.s telecom works. With that assumption, a city could technically buy 10 packages and distribute free wifi internet to an entire city on the cheap.


Against the ToS of home providers, sure, but there are tons of companies who will happily sell you transit for your small ISP - including some of the big incumbents, e.g., most of the small wireless ISPs in my area use CenturyLink as their upstream provider. This is a standard service offering in the commercial space, and if you want enough capacity to get 100+mbps service to multiple people, then you're going to be shopping in the commercial space.


CenturyLink is good, and believe it or not, I had an excellent experience with Comcast Business running greenfield fiber for me for backhaul (no one was more surprised than I!). ~$3000/month with a 3 year commit, 100mb symmetrical, and they ran the fiber over a mile with no up front cost.


Why does that cost 30x more than a personal 100mbit connection?


The service level assurance is radically different between commercial and residential service. The main way that this manifests is that your terms of service on a commercial connection allow you to do all kinds of things you can't do with residential (or business) service - like resell to other people.

Technically, the main difference is that the 100mbit symmetric line is fully provisioned, and so you can actually use all 100mbit of it on a continuous basis. This will quickly get you in trouble with a residential provider. There's also the issue that this is symmetrical, and the way that ISP networks are engineered the upstream is usually actually more expensive to provide (mostly because they use a lot of underlying technologies and equipment that are designed for asymmetric service), and the issue that this service will probably come with fixed IPs that will be SWIPd over to the customer, which is extra administrative overhead, not to mention the IPs themselves getting more expensive to hold these days. Oh, and contract terms regarding service interruptions are usually much more generous towards commercial customers.

Once you really get into the big leagues, you usually don't pay on a cap basis but instead of a 95%ile basis, where you pay a rate based on the 95th percentile of your bandwidth usage over the previous month. These rates end up being very high because you are paying for bandwidth that you actually, seriously used - unlike on a residential connection, where you might pay your ISP for 150Mbps but they expect your 95%ile usage to be more like a couple of Mbps tops (you probably aren't even using the connection at all most of the time).


> There's also the issue that this is symmetrical, and the way that ISP networks are engineered the upstream is usually actually more expensive to provide (mostly because they use a lot of underlying technologies and equipment that are designed for asymmetric service), and the issue that this service will probably come with fixed IPs that will be SWIPd over to the customer, which is extra administrative overhead, not to mention the IPs themselves getting more expensive to hold these days. Oh, and contract terms regarding service interruptions are usually much more generous towards commercial customers.

This isn't really accurate. ISP networks aren't engineered to be asymmetrical and the upstream isn't any more expensive than the downstream. The only asymmetry you will see is in the access network. Anything past that will be symmetrical.

If you use fiber (which almost any 100M or faster service will be) you can have any speed you like up to multiples of 100G symmetrically delivered.

IPs aren't really that expensive either. They are like $1 a pop per month. You can buy you own for $10-20.

Service interruptions will also just get you some service credits proportional to the outage.

Mostly commercial service costs more because you can charge more.

> Once you really get into the big leagues, you usually don't pay on a cap basis but instead of a 95%ile basis, where you pay a rate based on the 95th percentile of your bandwidth usage over the previous month.

You don't really have to be big in any sense to buy bandwidth using 95th percentile billing. I've had circuits on 95th percentile starting at a 100 Mbps commit. Probably could have gotten it at a lower speed too.

However, nowadays bandwidth is so cheap it might not even be sold to you at 95th percentile. It might just be rounded up to the nearest gig.

> These rates end up being very high because you are paying for bandwidth that you actually, seriously used - unlike on a residential connection, where you might pay your ISP for 150Mbps but they expect your 95%ile usage to be more like a couple of Mbps tops (you probably aren't even using the connection at all most of the time).

This is not true (anymore). Bandwidth is dirt cheap. If you have any change in your pocket you can afford a few megs. Prices are like 20 cents a Mbps per month.


Your post is correct for bandwidth at a colo or an IXP, not for last mile service, especially when buildout it required.


A lot of IP transit bandwidth is bought at a colo or an IXP, regardless of where the end customer is physically located.

This is because it is usually more expensive to buy bandwidth directly from the local (monopoly) provider than to buy transport from the same local (monopoly) provider to a colo or an IXP and buy then buy IP transit bandwidth at the remote site.

This is regardless of whether you require a buildout to get last mile service or not. You need not buy bandwidth to get business fiber extended to your premises. Buying transport to a colo or an IXP will suffice.


I was quoted $5000 / month for 10mb connection where I live in Tennessee.

They also run the DSL (3mb on a good day) the long way to where I live by running the opposite direction and putting me at the end of the line (2.5 miles+/-) when they have another line that passes the corner of our property but turns the other direction at the corner and won't tie me into that. (1/2 mile).

Trying to decide if we should just wait for Elon Musk or go back to current satellite tech.


You can actually put 100mbit down it constantly without getting cut off, overcharged, or contended with 30 other people.

Plus 50% extra ISP monopoly pricing.


$30/mbit is still far too much. $10/mbit maybe would be reasonable


You missed the part where I said they rolled the construction costs into the monthly payment. This was in a suburban area that required permitting and working with other utilities to run underground fiber.


No oversubscription, as pjc50 mentions.


Holy shit that's insanely expensive. Is that because of the fiber cost?


Partly/mostly. However, a lot of it has to do with the fact that they are (usually) the sole provider.


But isn't that what we are talking about in terms of this article and the parent comment. If the parent comment was talking about contracting at a business level with an ISP this would be a totally different conversation...


Yes, you're correct. You cannot just buy residential service from a provider and share it out to the entire neighborhood. In that case, you need to buy transit/business/commercial service from them and use that as your upstream.


Well you _can_ just do it ;). What can't be enforced can't be effectively outlawed.


It doesn't really make sense to run copper or coax anymore. Fiber is where it's at.

It's not very hard if you do it on private property, but the difficulty level does go up if you have to use public right of way due to red tape.


Scani is a DIY ISP in France, member of the French Data Network Federation [0] initiative.

They run a wifi (ubiquiti based) mesh network[1] in a rural part of France, which spans roughly 100km north to south and 60km west to east.

They are about to roll out their own fiber network in this rural area.

If some of you are interested in these subjects, there will be a decentralised internet devroom at FOSDEM in Brussels in early February[2]

[0]https://www.ffdn.org/en

[1]https://cooperateurs.scani.fr/openinfos.html#11/47.9508/3.76...

[2]https://fosdem.org/2017/schedule/track/decentralised_interne...


I don't know, but you might be interested in this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/08/technology/how-to-give-rur...


This is my favorite one which seems like it could be done in U.S. rural areas:

https://motherboard.vice.com/read/this-rural-community-is-bu...

One local for dense, suburban areas or maybe urban. Helps to run the fiber on the utility poles instead of underground. More risk with weather, etc but cheaper.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/02/gigabit-internet-...


I've been doing it for more than a decade, so yes. Using fixed wireless though, not fiber. Trenching fiber on a private basis is possible, but expensive.


You need to live in the rural areas where the city and county regulations are not onerous but the population density is low enough that the big players don't care.


> Her motto, which she repeats often in conversation, is JFDI. Three of those letters stand for Just Do It. The fourth you can work out for yourself.

That's all nice, but what if local governments and businesses start counteracting the project with bureaucratic rules, and lawsuits? It seems to me that the "JFDI" mantra doesn't really work then.


JFDI haha, no excuse




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