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Community broadband projects boast faster speeds than Virgin's 152Mbps service

Friday, November 15th 2013 by Cable.co.uk
Virgin Media's new top tier broadband service won't match the speeds offered by some altnets
Smaller operators are delivering faster broadband than Virgin Media's new top tier service.

Virgin Media made waves this week by promising to launch the UK's fastest widely available broadband service early next year.

Set to offer speeds of up to 152Mbps, the new top tier package will hit the market in February 2014. But while the headline speed took up most of the column inches, the most important part of the announcement was the phrase "widely available". 

That's because in rural locations across the UK, communities are taking it upon themselves to address their broadband woes by rolling out networks capable of delivering far faster speeds than Virgin's new service.

Broadband for the Rural North - or B4RN as it's more snappily titled - is a prime example. Funded by shares and donations, the project aims to bring ultrafast fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband to the Lune Valley and Trough of Bowland in north Lancashire.

Tens of thousands of metres of trenches have been dug to lay the fibre optic cables needed to deliver the advanced connectivity, which offers speeds of up to 1Gbps - almost seven times faster than Virgin Media's forthcoming service.

So if communities like those involved in the B4RN rollout can rally round and deploy services with much higher speeds than those currently provided by the big boys, why isn't everyone doing it?

Frustratingly, many of these smaller projects are being hampered - or even completely derailed - by the government's own attempt to vastly improve superfast broadband coverage across the country. Its flagship Broadband Delivery UK programme has made it all but impossible for smaller alternative network operators (altnets) to get the public funding they often need to make their dreams of universal FTTH coverage a reality.

Just this week, the Cotswolds Broadband group - which aimed to roll out the technology to 5,000 properties in West Oxfordshire - learned it was effectively surplus to requirements, because Oxfordshire County Council had already signed a contract with BT. A similar fate befell an almost identical project in Dorset last month.

Perhaps it's about time the government started to get behind the little guys, rather than making the already difficult task of delivering a future-proof broadband infrastructure on a shoestring budget even tougher.

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