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Villagers tire of awaiting high-speed Internet, so they deploy own cable trench

   Anyone visiting the village of Wray in Lancashire over the next few days may get the wrong idea about this tiny British hamlet. For this weekend (April 28-29) sees the start of the annual Scarecrow Festival, which means that the streets will be full of country bumpkin figures, with turnips for noses and stalks of straw poking out of their ill-fitting jackets. Then, of course, there's the maggot-racing, which takes place every autumn in the George and Dragon pub. All of which might lead you to believe that this is a bit of a rural backwater.

  Not a bit of it. Admittedly, in terms of geography, this community is located in the lovely Vale of Lune, where the hedgerows are frequently wider than the roads. When it comes to technology, though, this is set to become one of the nation's most groundbreaking technological hubs - literally.
  Fed up with the slow download speeds and frozen computer screens of their snail-slow dial-up internet connection, the residents of Wray, and eight neighbouring parishes, have come together to dig a 40-mile trench and lay their own broadband line.
  At first hearing, Wray, Arkholme, Melling, Wennington, Tatham, Roeburndale, Over Wyresdale and Quernmore (pronounced Quormer) might not sound the likeliest of high-speed internet hubs. But if the $3 million can be raised to finance the scheme (and $600,000 is already in the bank), the inhabitants of these isolated villages will have not just views of Yorkshire, the Lake District hills and (on a good day) the Isle of Man, but connections to the information super-highway that are every bit as fast and efficient as in metropolitan New York or London.
  The scheme is called Broadband for the Rural North (B4RN, or BARN, as everyone calls it) and, far from being some kind of flyaway hillbilly notion, it is rooted in firm fiscal soil.
  In best community-action fashion, the participants represent a sensible cross-section of local society: farmers, teachers, businessmen, engineers, film-makers, agricultural contractors, a professor of neuropathology and a man who used to run the post office. And planted right in the middle of the project is the cast-iron principle that, while this venture might one day make a profit, any surplus income will be going straight back to the community, rather than into the pockets of the shareholders. Of whom there are already substantial numbers.
  So far, 200 people have bought shares in the enterprise at (one pound) a share,  says farmer Christine Conder, one of the B4RN management team, who are all volunteers. The maximum number of shares you can have is 20,000. Quite a few people have gone for 1,500-pounds worth and in return they get a free broadband connection plus 12 months' free subscription.
  There's no shortage of takers, either, since the remoteness of these communities means most people are struggling with low-speed, low-capacity connections. Indeed, some 380,000 households nationwide still only have a dial-up connection.
  At present, if I want to download a large document, my internet is out of action for hours,  complains film-maker John Hamlett. The same problems afflict Christopher Mays, assistant dean at Lancaster University, who lives in Quernmore. I'm currently saddled with an appalling service,  he says. It allows me to access my email, but I have to download all my documents at work. Which means that, unlike other academics, it's almost impossible for me to work from home.


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