B4RN: Broadband for the Rural North
Not-for-profit community benefit society provides one of the world’s fastest broadband services.
Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN – pronounced Barn) is a growing rural broadband provider founded in 2011. It has connected around 5,000 properties to its own network of over 3,000km of fibre optic cables. Because it is a full fibre network, B4RN provides internet connections that are capable of being 30 times faster than super-fast broadband and hundreds of times faster than the slow upload speeds many rural communities currently have.
B4RN owns the network it has installed and so has a strong asset base which it uses to generate recurring revenues as the broadband provider for the communities. The majority of the network to date has been funded by local residents investing over £5 million in shares in the company.
As a community benefit society, no individual investor or company owns more than 100,000 shares and each member has only one vote, irrespective of the number of shares it or they own. Board members must be re-elected at least every three years and the company is run in the interests of its members and the communities it serves.
B4RN’s profits are reinvested back into the community in a variety of ways, for example by providing internet to schools in its network free of charge.
B4RN now has a waiting list of 12,000 properties. To help it scale up, it has launched a crowdfunding campaign with the ethical bank, Triodos, in a bid to raise £3m. This sum will allow the social enterprise to connect 500 householders per month, compared to the 120 that it currently brings online.
Tags Community business
New rules needed
Policies that can help unleash the potential of this or similar initiatives across the UK.
Promote community wealth building
Support co-ops to thrive in their localities by anchoring them within place-based industrial and community wealth building strategies.
Create devolved ‘just transition’ funds
Government should devolve a proportion of its Green New Deal budget to support local just transition plans.
Turn RBS into a network of local banks
New banks would be owned in trust for the public benefit and mandated to lend only within their local area.
Expand the community and co-operative banking sector
Stakeholder banks can be mandated to serve the public interest or local communities rather than simply to maximise returns.
Create affordable workspaces
Affordable workspaces are essential to the survival of independent businesses.