Bid to expand rural broadband rollout

editorial image

A community benefit company which is bringing high speed broadband to the countryside is in contention to win the newspaper industry’s acclaimed Local Business Accelerators (LBA) competition.

B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) has made the eight-strong local shortlist of firms vying to win advertising in the Lancaster Guardian or Morecambe Visitor.

Around 500 newspapers are taking part in the initiative, which is open to firms aged between one and five years old.

Local winners will go to the national finals where they could win a year’s mentoring from Dragon’s Den’s Deborah Meaden plus a local advertising campaign devised by a top London creative ad agency.

The B4RN scheme could bring fibre optic broadband to 2,500 remote farms and homes. Around 1,000 have signed up so far for the one gigabit (1,000 megabytes per second) connection.

Farmers and rural residents have been helping to lay the cables to properties in return for shares in the company.

Otherwise, shares are being made available under the EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme) which offers 30 per cent tax relief, with a minimum investment of £100 and maximum of £20,000. So far, £500,000 has been raised through share issues.

Or for a donation of £5 people can sponsor a metre of fibre duct which will be inscribed with their name.

Connections have already gone live in Quernmore, with Arkholme, Abbeystead and Newton set to follow over the next few weeks.

Other areas set to benefit include Melling, Arkholme, Wray, Tatham, Roeburndale, Wennington and Caton-with-Littledale, Kirkby Lonsdale, Gressingham and Leck.

B4RN say that while the Government and large telecom companies have plans for superfast broadband, they do not cover many rural areas because costs are so high and subscriber numbers are low, meaning there is limited internet and mobile coverage.

B4RN chief executive, Quernmore resident Prof Barry Forde, said: “Winning this competition would enable us to advertise the service in parishes we have not focused on before towards the county border.

“It would be difficult for us to afford this advertising as we operate on a shoestring.

“And if we were to go on to win the mentoring that would be enormously useful.

“We are okay on the technical side of things but to have input from someone like Deborah Meaden who has expertise in running a business would be marvellous.”

The other firms on the Lancaster and Morecambe Newspapers shortlist for this year’s LBA competition are SCS Logistics, Queen of Hearts Crockery, Legal and Mutual Drinking Vinegar, Potts’ Pies, Broadband for the Rural North, Porter’s Trading, The Bridle House of Torrisholme and Legal and Mutual.

Every week between now and the announcement of the local winners in February we will throw the spotlight on one of the shortlisted firms.