Brits keen to help build community-owned broadband networks, but pay for them? Not so much

via Flickr ©  Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © Wesley Fryer (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Despite Brexit and media-driven nostalgia for the "Dunkirk spirit" there's not much evidence of it when it come to stumping up cash
  • Many privacy and security worries about community service providers although the record of traditional ISPs is abysmal 
  • Small town (or even smaller village) mentalities and suspicions can, and do, get in the way
  • Who's going to run it? Will we have to pay for repairs? Let's leave it until next year

A new report from the digital marketing agency,, shows that 67 per cent of the UK population are still unsatisfied with the speed of their broadband connections and are very anxious to have more choice and access to guaranteed, genuine high-speed Internet access. Indeed, so hacked-off are they, after repeatedly falling yet again for the blandishments of the marketing and advertising departments of 'traditional' CSPs and signing-up once more to various packages with go-faster stripes, bells and whistles only to find that they are a retread of the same old, same old dismal daily reality, that they would happily volunteer to help build community-owned infrastructure. 

Fine and dandy you might think, all very co-operative and community-spirited - except that while 78 per cent of the UK population are in favour of community-owned broadband networks, 65 per cent wouldn't stump up the cash necessary to get such a community network up and running. What's more, 34 per cent of Brits think that modern Britain is so lacking in community spirit that they would never cooperate successfully to build community broadband. Seems we are not all in it together after all. What a surprise.

And when it comes to coughing up hard cash to fund such initiatives only 35 per cent would pay £600 or more in deployment and installation costs despite many well-documented instances of community broadband projects having returned that level of investment (via savings on the cost of connection supplied by rapacious rural 'broadband' providers) over the course of five years or less. 

What's more community-owned broadband networks can completely obviate that other pet peeve, the buying and selling of personal data by conventional CSPs and other interested parties. Furthermore community networks can be made to be incredibly secure yet 54 per cent of Brits are concerned about the security of such schemes even though there are so many truly worrying examples where commercial CSP networks have proven to be riddled with a myriad of security holes and problems where hackers have been able to break-in and steal the data of millions of subscribers.

The fact is that community-owned and operated networks give their subscribers complete control over their Internet access while service prices are considerably lower and speeds often very much higher than those 'offered' by traditional ISPs. What's more customer service is better, as is privacy and security.

The community spirit is willing but the commitment to opening wallets is weak

The Rebootonline research shows that 78 per cent of respondents would be prepared to provide access to their property free of charge, and 67 per cent would be ready to volunteer help in the building of support the building of community owned infrastructure, 34 per cent regarded the communal ability to pool resources together as a major factor militating against the actual establishment of community-owned broadband network, never mind the cost.

Looking from the outside in, it seems that whilst there is a lot of support, in theory, for the development and deployment of community-based broadband infrastructure there's considerable concern about the practicalities. And there's a good reason for that. Of the 10 case studies on, just three reported a cost per premises lower than £650. Only two of these (B4RN and Tove Valley) were community-owned and operated, while the third simply saw Preston village in Hertfordshire buy into a planned BT broadband upgrade without gaining ownership over the infrastructure or its operation - although why on earth anyone would want to do that baffles me.

The Rebootonline report shows that the B4RN and Tove Valley projects came in at £600 and £385 per household respectively but the low cost of Tove Valley’s network was largely due to funds obtained through BDUK via the Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF). This scheme is now closed (no one seems to know why) so such a low cost could not be replicated.

Brits also have serious reservations in regard to community broadband schemes in terms of the community's ability to successfully maintain the network without significant (and presumably expensive outages (46%); a lack of technical expertise needed to establish and maintain the network (42%) and, again, security/privacy concerns (54%).

Security and privacy is a big worry but much of it is down to a lack of understanding of data security under the traditional ISP model as any appreciation of the strengths of online security and privacy within a community-owned network.

As the report makes clear, current UK legislation requires ISPs to store detailed internet usage logs on all their users; these include lists of websites visited, software used and files downloaded. The recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Scandal, as well as examples of how US legislation in this area has evolved, demonstrates just how enormous the market for such data is, and how eager both governments and corporations can be to make profits using an individual's private data.

Community-owned and operated broadband projects, by their very nature, would ensure that users’ private data would not be sold on. Furthermore, when it comes to securing the network against hackers, local communally- owned ISPs, having fewer users would be better equipped to repel cyberattacks. Indeed, research suggests that traditional ISPs focus their security protocols on shielding their own infrastructure, rather than protecting customers or third parties.

Rebootonline has produced a useful and extensive guide to help communities and co-operatives build their own infrastructures and become their own ISP. It is well worth a look. You can download a copy here

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