We might not think of farming as an industry that relies heavily on broadband connections, but in fact Internet connectivity has become an important part of modern agriculture. Farmers can use the Internet to do things like automate feeding and milking systems, check market prices, exchange goods and monitor health issues in their herds. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get a reliable broadband connection in rural farming communities. That’s why one farmer’s wife in Northwest England decided to take matters into her own hands.
In 2009, Christine Conder’s Internet connection was interrupted when trees on the border of a neighboring farm grew too tall and blocked the view of a nearby wireless mast. Tired of fighting the finicky wireless connection, Conder figured that with a little hard work and ingenuity she could build a small fiber optic network of her own. So, she purchased a kilometer of fiber optic cable and used a farm tractor to dig a trench connecting her farm with the adjacent property. In just a few days, her home became the hub of a new gigabit-per-second broadband network.
“We dug it ourselves and we lit [the cable] ourselves, and we proved that ordinary people could do it,” said Conder in an interview with the BBC. “It wasn’t rocket science. It was three days of hard work.”
After successfully installing her first length of fiber optic cable, Conder was inspired to start her own ISP for communities in rural Lancashire. Seven years later, her company B4RN has laid more than 2,000 miles of cable and connected more than 40 communities to its 1Gbps broadband network.
To get the service, civil parishes must agree to B4RN’s cooperative business model which distributes the cost of installation and maintenance among homes and businesses in the area. For households, the monthly fee is about $35. Places of worship get the service for free, and schools get connected at a discounted rate. Not only is B4RN’s service affordable, it’s also about 35 times faster than average broadband speeds in the UK. Before Conder and her team started laying fiber optic cable in Lancashire, many farmers in the area were still accessing the Internet via dial-up connections.
B4RN’s service has been so well-received by the communities in Lancashire that Corden and one of her colleagues were even recognized by the Queen for their efforts last year. Corden might be modest about her achievements, saying she’s “just a farmer’s wife,” but for thousands of people in rural England she and her organization have been downright life changing. It’s amazing what people can accomplish with the help of a little good old fashioned stubbornness.