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Government Moot BDUK Fibre Broadband Plan for South Yorkshire UK

Monday, January 13th, 2014 (8:03 am) - Score 1,994
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The Government has proposed a new £10 million scheme, which would be based off its existing Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, to help deploy superfast broadband services across 90% of South Yorkshire in England (most likely with BT’s help). The region suffered a £155m failure last year when the alternative Digital Region network collapsed.

The Digital Region project initially began life in 2008 with around £100m of public money and the aim of building an alternative network that could roll-out superfast broadband (FTTC) services to 80% of South Yorkshire (the longer term ambition was also to reach 97%), primarily because BT had shown little interest in doing so.

However, despite reaching its 80% target in 2011, a toxic cocktail of poor advertising, zero support from the big ISPs (some didn’t want to step on BT’s tail), competition from BT’s own services and the resulting lack of customers (at the last count it had 3,000 subscribers but needed 108,000 to be self-sufficient) meant that the network was burning masses of public money (roughly £1m per month + a £25m EU grant that needed to be repaid).

As a result there were few surprises when in August 2013 and following a failed proposal to rescue the network via a new owner and yet more public money, Digital Region formally announced its plans to close the network (here). At the time it was said that closure of the network would save the taxpayer an estimated £12.5 million.

The situation meant that some parts of South Yorkshire would once again be left without superfast broadband connectivity. But a new report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today has elaborated on what went wrong and also proposed a new £10m BDUK scheme to improve local connectivity.

A DCMS Spokesman said (Yorkshire Post):

BDUK is ready to discuss how to take forward a project to deliver 90 per cent superfast coverage in South Yorkshire with the four local authorities involved. BDUK has earmarked (£5m) funding for a South Yorkshire project – as for the rest of the country, we would expect that BDUK would provide 50 per cent of the necessary public funding and that local funding – including the option of European funding sources – would provide the other 50 per cent.”

The Government’s proposal would mirror the BDUK scheme in other areas and since BT is currently the only approved operator able to bid then it’s a fair bet that they’d take on the task of deployment via the usual FTTC/P technologies. Curiously the DCMS statement makes no mention of private sector funding, although BT would normally be expected to put in some of its own investment in order to match-fund with the local authorities (Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley).

But a deal is by no means done. The four South Yorkshire authorities are still attempting to find a buyer for what’s left of the Digital Region network (i.e. nobody likes to spend £155m only to scrap what’s left) and have linked that to any future plans, which means that the issue must be resolved before a deal can be agreed.

It’s also possible that BT might have some interest in certain aspects of DRL’s remaining network, which could save them time on any future deployment in the area, but that’s just speculation on our part. GEO Networks has reportedly shown a similar interest.

Meanwhile Digital Region’s remaining customers (i.e. those who haven’t already migrated away) can expect to be contacted again within the next few weeks with news of the final closure plans.

UPDATE 10:15am

Added an extra bit of info. to note that GEO Network’s has also been sniffing around DRL and look more likely to grab it than BT, which doesn’t strictly need DRL’s infrastructure to make the new BDUK proposal work.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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