It would be easy to dismiss the B4RN initiative in the UK as such a small scale approach that it is meaningless, and that's no doubt what the lobbyists who try to shape policy and regulation in the UK are doing. And it cannot be denied that the scale of the project is extremely small. The video that B4RN released today doesn't shy away from the fact and instead embraces its slightly quaint 'farmer's wives teas and buns' quality.
I think however that the significance of B4RN is not to be dismissed because of its lack of scale, quite the contrary. The initiative matters because it shows a number of things that centralized government and policy makers are prone to forget (unless they deliberately want to ignore it) and that is:
- first of all that no matter where you live broadband has become a necessity. Urban-dwellers can no longer casually assume that if you live outside a city you're willing to get lousy service (or none at all),
- second that there are still people out there willing to take matters into their own hands and build what they need when government and private players fail them. This cannot be stressed enough, and on a personal level gives me at least a little bit of optimism about the future of humankind,
- finally, that once you've paid for the dig, the rest comparatively costs close to nothing. And that's how farmers in Lancaster will soon get better quality service than most Londoners.
I don't know if B4RN will get wider replication in or outside the UK, and to be honest I'm too much of a cynic to bet on it. But I like that it's there and will certainly be following their development in the coming months.