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Rural Towns Build Broadband Networks

Posted by: 
Dave Zuckerman
Communities in England and Vermont take ownership

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B4RN’s first shareholder
Copyright The Daily Yonder 2012

Although separated by more than 3,000 miles, rural communities on both sides of the Atlantic are facing a similar issue – lack of quality broadband networks.  Individuals and local businesses in 23 towns across Vermont and 8 parishes in rural Lancaster in northwest England, frustrated with traditional companies limited investment in broadband, have turned to community solutions to finance these networks.

In Lancaster, the parishes have formed Broadband for the Rural North, Ltd (B4RN), a community coop, that sells shares to community members for 1 pound each with a minimum purchase of 100 shares. Already B4RN is more than halfway to its financial goal to allow the buildout to start. 

These shares create immediate tax breaks for the investors and may eventually pay them back. And the benefit for the community is even greater; B4RN has created a charitable organization to donate eventual profits to community economic development and other projects. 

Meanwhile, in Vermont, 23 town governments have founded EC Fiber to build and operate a municipally-owned universal, open access, fiberoptic telecommunications network. However, all funding for this venture will come from selling tax-exempt 15-year $2,500 promissory notes that earn 7% interest over the life of the loan to the community.  In 2011, slightly more than 50,000 residents, who the network will serve, raised more than $1.3 million and have begun the buildout of 26 miles of the network.

Communities across the U.S. and England, and other countries, are already positioned to execute these types of efforts. As Craig Settles, author of this recent article in The Daily Yonder, notes and explains in more detail, communities need to take advantage and focus on five key elements:
• the strong community desire for broadband and the frustration with waiting;
• the community’s willingness to support co-ops or community-owned nonprofits;
• the community benefit of local dollars staying local instead of going to outside corporations;
• the community ability to look beyond just stock sales and to community foundations; and
• the community’s locally-tailored investment strategy based on a good needs assessment.