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German villagers build own broadband network (thelocal.de)
134 points by nkurz on June 2, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments

The part that is completely missing in that article - and could be interesting to people from outside from germany - is that this shouldn't be necessary if you follow the official worldview. The ISPs are obliged to provide High-Speed Internet to the whole of Germany, but the government is not forcing them to do that, instead letting them promise and promise again to make that happen.

They do it somewhat with LTE, which they have to roll out first in rural areas before being allowed to go into the big cities (where the money is). But in the DSL-market, where there is no such force applied, they simply don't do it. Promises are worth nothing and the market doesn't succeed in providing basic infrastructure.

The moment that LTE started happening, people realized that they were not going to get decent internet. Because "rural" in Germany includes villages with 1000 inhabitants in it.

Just because the big Telcos don't consider it economically viable to invest there, these 1000 people would have to share the badndwidth of LTE among themselves indefinitely. So of course they became active. (Note, some communities already started to get involved in their own internet connectivity long before LTE was rolled out in Germany.)

Funny enough, once there is a decent alternative by a local/small provider, the big ones also start showing up.

This is also happening in Finland. It worked well for single villages, etc. but then the municipalities discovered how cheap these co-operatives were and enlisted them to build big networks. Now these companies with very little actual expertise of network building have tens of millions of budget to network almost entire counties and are failing hard.

This is not at all uncommon on Sweden. Rural communities come together and organize fiber buildouts in their own local areas. Average cost is around $2000 per connection. The biggest problem is generating enough interest to make a build out economically viable.

We've been working on this for two years where I live and the digging will finally begin in august, 180km of fiber to ~600 homes.

Good work. I live a bit more urban, but our local council (kommun), i.e. the tax payers, owns the local network and we have eleven companies providing different type of services (IP, cable TV, VoIP etc) on the fibre. We have about half of the houses (6000 of 12000) and essentially all the apartments connected. Getting my house connected by fibre was one of the best things I have ever done. Ran a startup from the basement for a while.

It is an interesting problem even in some areas that are not too remote. My parents are within 2 miles of the nearest cable or DSL connection, but it might as well be 100 miles. The spent a while considering a 50 foot tower for a line-of-sight radio link to a town a few miles away, but right now they still have HughesNet service with low caps and high latency.

I am really not sure how I feel about their situation. They have plenty of money to throw at the problem, so they could fix it if they really wanted to, but that isn't the case for everyone. For now it is just horrible when they want to show me a youtube video and then we all huddle around the laptop for a few minutes while it buffers.

Microwave link is the way to go. There may be a local small company that already has towers in place on a hill or something. I'm in rural Montana and can get 40 Mb/s, no caps, low ping. Get the latest generation of radios with the small (<12") dish if you can as they are much less effected by wind etc.


A lot of local citizen groups have tried to do this in small towns in the US but typically what happens is Verizon or Comcast comes in with a big budget Ad campaign rallying against it. Of course their plans usually involve using the cities tax dollars but the basic idea is the same.


Or the incumbent ISPs will sue them to hell for a few years to stop it.


wow.. comcast is more evil than i thought.

I'm not sure I understand how they did this. Did the residents' money go to building the local network for the village? Who provides the backbone? I just wonder how applicable this might be to small towns in the U.S.

The article explains it- they formed a company, sold shares to residents, built the network, and then leased the network to an ISP. They then buy their service from the ISP.

I am very interested in similar projects, like B4RN in the UK- I am working to form a similar community initiative in Dade County, MO, USA. (DadeCountyFiber.org). My current plan is to operate the ISP locally as a nonprofit, rather than leasing it to the ISP as in the article (More like the B4RN project).

You may also find interesting this collection of "community" wireless entworks that we set up around Scotland: http://www.tegola.org.uk/networks.html

Wow.. Some people just think about it. Amazing to see people go through with it.

Thanks, i have bookmarked many of these types of community networks over the years. Always looking for more, the more ideas, the better!

Well, as far as I understand, some of the residents essentially formed a company (BBNG) which then built a fiber optics connection to the nearest TNG access point. TNG is a regional provider, serving in particular the town of Kiel (capitital of the state of Schleswig-Holstein) and is also (one of) the ISP for the corresponding state government. TNG in turn provides the actual service to the subscribers, and pays a leasing fee to BBNG. BBNG uses that revenue to reimburse the investors.

As for the peerings of TNG: http://www.cidr-report.org/cgi-bin/as-report?as=AS13101

What I don't understand is how you figure out where the closest fibre access point is. I'm trying to get my head around how to carry out a project similar to this / B4RN and the first step seems to be to check if there's a fibre access point reasonably close by.

Find a local line-man and ask! Wherever you see one of those trucks working on overhead or underground lines there is a ton of knowledge about local infrastructure present.

Good spots to scout for: railroad stations, microwave towers, datacenters (unlikely, but still), highways.

You ask your telecoms drawing office who should have plans for all their plant.

You could try pinging @malcolmcorbett as he has been involved in community broadband

TNG serves all of Schleswig-Holstein now? I thought this was a Kiel-only thing?

This is interesting to see, especially the older Germans chipping in. My own in-laws who live in the Oberpfalz have no broadband nor do other family in the same building. I usually end up topping up a data stick when I go.

Check out ffdn :) http://www.ffdn.org/ This is not uncommon :)

The UK is currently building out it's broadband network to provide 2MBps [0] to everyone by next year, and "Superfast" broadband to most people with the next couple of years. There is a local bidding process for who the funding goes to, but in most cases it is BT meaning people will get up to 24Mbps. There is a bit of controversy though as local initiatives like this are being shunned in favour of BT due to red tape [1].

I wonder whether it would be better to instead invest in 4G services in rural areas. Here I can't even get 2G (yeah this place is a bit remote), but most rural areas have that or 3G in the UK.

[0] https://www.gov.uk/broadband-delivery-uk

[1] http://northdorsetbroadband.co.uk/

I feel that achieving the 2MBps by next year will be very unlikely.

I live in a very rural area and over the past 3-4 years our internet has gone from poor (0.5MBps) to nothing. We were told by an engineer that the wire is so badly damaged that there is nothing that he could do and the majority of the wire from the exchange from our house to the exchange would have to be replaced. Its so bad landline calls are no inaudible due to the amount of noise coming down the line.

What did BT have to say about this? Absolutely nothing, there is a flag on our account letting the call centers know that there is nothing they can do for us. They just keep telling us to move ISPs. But everything goes down the BT line anyway so thats just moving the problem elsewhere.

(Its quite sad that I can remember the sequence of numbers to press when ringing up to get through to the tech support and then the script they used to ask when tried to resolve our issues.)

There are about 5 other houses with us, then about 4 miles before the next town, and then the exchange. In total we are about 5-7 miles from the exchange (which is fibre ready).

The problem for us now is that everyone just expects broadband of some form or another, its like a utility. Nobody wants to buy a house with no water, or electric and now people don't want to buy a house without broadband. So we've got to the point where we are trying to move house to get access to the internet but cannot sell our current house to get the funds to move.

EDIT: Also just like to add that I've looked into 4G and due to the landscape, it wasn't an option :(

BTs upto 80, for this new network. 24 is for the old network.

I don't know much about the broadband market, but i feel the future will be wireless highspeed internet. In many regions LTE/4G already reach very decent speeds with low latency, the main problem is insane traffic costs and probably not enough infrastructure to support many clients. But the technology is already there isn't it ? Or will companies always want wired highspeed internet ?

The broadband situation in smaller towns and villages in germany is horrible - it's an issue that has long been neglected here. I have to deal with a 1 Mb down/128 Kb up (yes, those are bits...obviously) DSL line in a village with a population of about 1000.

Recently we got LTE, which i hope isn't meant to be a serious alternative to proper DSL/cable as the volume limit renders it close to unusable (15 GB or 30 GB for additional costs, every GB above that will require additional 5€). Furthermore connections are dropped frequently and it feels as if the local LTE access point is already at its limit during peak hours. LTE just isn't an alternative.

Unfortunately I fear that this is all that is planned for our region as part of the so called broadband initiative.

I love comments like these. Imagine that, we're complaining about having only 1mbps down and 128kbps up. And that's wireless. That's amazing in a way. Progress is so subtle that what would have been an incredible feat of advanced magic less than 2 decades ago is now considered to be anaemic and practically unusable.

To me this is a sign of huge progress, not only do we expect multiple mbps connections for our pocket computers, we're upset when we don't get that level of performance even in the backwaters of our societies.

Let's face it: Without acceptable internet access, you're dead.

This is the best comment I've ever read. Seriously though, when it comes to business an internet presence is practically a necessity at this point.

The problem with wireless is scaling. When we run out of room so send data wirelessly, we have essentially no way to increase the bandwidth, so we instead need to reduce demand with the high prices you see. Wired networks and almost unbounded scaling potential.

By room you mean radio frequencies ? ok that makes sense. But for example my mom lives in a very rural area of germany but luckily still gets around 4MBps from DSL. That has been the case for 10 years though and will probably never increase while my own bandwidth has increased to 100Mbps in the meantime. The wireless network is hardly used at all in her area though and could offer up to 50Mbps if it weren't for the high traffic costs.

Part of the high cost of mobile delivery of last mile services is the requirement for this heavy infrastructure to service a small number of people. The further away from a regional centre the fewer the number of extra customers you will reach for the same investment in infrastructure.

The mobile tower still has to provide backhaul of some kind. In the usual scenario the backhaul will be provided by microwave connections, though in some cases it might be a fibre connection. Microwave is easier to manage since you don't have to keep leasing right-of-way for your cables, and if something goes wrong it's either one end or the other (as opposed to cables, where your problem with connectivity from, say, Canberra to Sydney might be in Canberra or Sydney or any point along that 400km cable).

Wireless is not a solution for last-mile fixed services except in very sparse rural settings. It will always be lower-speed than wired connections. The only advantage of wireless is the ability to reach more people in a given service area for the same infrastructure cost.

> Part of the high cost of mobile delivery of last mile services is the requirement for this heavy infrastructure to service a small number of people.

How much of that infrastructure cost is regulatory cost versus just the cost of people building their own antennas? Specifically I am wondering if this is another industry where equipment isn't as difficult or costly as the folklore (or marketing materials) would have you believe.

This is what a regular analog TV station looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXXmUWD9_0w

Does any part of that say "cheap" to you?

Radios are difficult. Radio transmitters which don't pollute the spectrum are more difficult. There's a reason mesh networking is a big research area at the moment - because the little bit of 2.4ghz you use around your house absolutely doesn't scale. You keep it contained and low power, and use wired backhaul.

You want to go to high power? You now need electronically aimed beam-forming antennas, much higher power levels, you need all of this linked to the national backbone anyway.

Companies might use wired internet but residential places without cable will likely move to mobile. This is exactly what is already happening in Nigeria.

While possible, I think the issues in Nigeria are different than in countries with strong property rights. From what I hear, the reason why wireless/mobile internet is so much more reliable and popular in Africa is that with wired internet people steal wires that are hung on utility poles. Not sure if they would also dig up underground wires, but obviously burying the wire has more associated cost than hanging it from a pole.

I even know of a few people in Copenhagen who've done that. Companies are starting to offer all-inclusive packages for mobile+home 4G, where you can add a fixed wifi router onto your existing mobile 4G plan. If you're already paying for mobile 4G, the incremental cost to those packages is often considerably less than the cost of home cable+DSL, at least if your data usage is moderate.

thats exactly what i mean, i could see most of the population with moderate internet usage move to mobile internet completely in the next 10 years. Its a different story for power users and businesses of course.

On the other hand you have more and more services like phones and TV move to IP, so a wired highspeed connection might be even more important in the future.

A small town in Alberta, Canada did the same thing.[1]

All 8,500 residents have access to gigabit for $57/mo.

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/small-alberta-town-gets-ma...

Serious question, but how does a town/municipality handle network maintenance? Many of these stories seem to feature a lot of grants, and one-time costs but I don't see much about the cost required to upgrade the network over time. I'm assuming some of the fee users pay is earmarked for this?

They could also route some Tor traffic from their community project.

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