Alternative Superfast Broadband Plan for South Yorkshire UK Picks BT

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By Mark Jackson, ISPreview UK | July 15th, 2014

The South Yorkshire (England) councils of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield appear to have progressed a proposal to roll-out superfast broadband (24Mbps+) connectivity across the region by matching an investment offer of £10.4 million from the Broadband Delivery UK programme, which will help to replace the defunct Digital Region network. BT is set to supply.

The project was first proposed earlier this year (here) after Digital Region (DRL) ended up suffocating under the weight of its own public debt and a failure to attract even a fraction of the customers required in order to make their hybrid-fibre VDSL broadband network economically self-sustainable (here). DRL’s network is currently expected to shut down completely in mid-August 2014, with many users being forced to accept slower ADSL lines on BT’s network.

Since then the Sheffield City Region, which despite its name is actually comprised of the nine local authority areas (Barnsley, Bassetlaw, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derbyshire Dales, Doncaster, North East Derbyshire, Rotherham and Sheffield), has conducted a public consultation on the BDUK proposal (here) and in March 2014 appeared to give preliminary approval to the scheme (here).

Broadband Meeting Notes (March 2014)

Key points from the discussion:
• The project should continue to be branded as Sheffield City Region to reflect its importance to the whole economic area.
• Private sector members underlined importance of this project to businesses.
• LEP Board asked to confirm length of contract with new broadband provider.
• LEP Board agreed that local authorities and the CA should be fully protected from any future liabilities.
• Leaders have previously endorsed proposals to explore a South Yorkshire superfast broadband extension project, as part of an existing Government scheme.
• The project’s Programme Board has now produced a Local Broadband Plan that identifies the extent of the proposed intervention area and associated costs, as required by BDUK.
• The Plan requires a local funding contribution of up to £10.4 million.
• Due to the extremely tight timescales involved South Yorkshire Leaders had been asked to commit to prioritising broadband within suitable regional funding streams, thereby maximising the likelihood that this local contribution can be secured.
• The project remains on track and, should the decision be taken to proceed, could issue contracts as required by the end of June 2014.
• Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire district areas are subject to separate arrangements with county providers.

Recommendations agreed / noted:
• To endorse the South Yorkshire Local Broadband Plan.
• To endorse the project governance arrangements.

Most recently the central Government has announced an investment of £6bn to help fund the first wave of 39 new Local Growth Deals with businesses and local authorities across England, which included details of the Sheffield City Region Growth Deal and a related mention of their broadband plans.

Inside that document the local authorities stated their intention to, “support extension of superfast broadband coverage to 90% of UK premises by 2016, via existing broadband projects, Sheffield City Region LEP will commit to work with local partners and BT to support delivery. To support extension of superfast broadband coverage to 95% of UK premises by 2017, Sheffield City Region LEP will also work with local partners to help ensure match funding is in place for the next round of projects.

Now a new report on Rothbiz appears to confirm that BT’s tender for the £20m+ project has been accepted by the local authorities, which will come as no great surprise to anybody. As above the investment will be used to make superfast broadband speeds (24Mbps+) available to 95% of the four regions by 2017, which is in keeping with BDUK’s national objectives. No doubt BT will also use a combination of their usual up to 80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology, which is very similar to Digital Region’s VDSL solution, and possibly some 330Mbps Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) lines.

Sadly BDUK’s funding won’t be allowed to benefit Sheffield city centre because it’s typically more aimed at helping underserved sub-urban and rural locations (usually to avoid raising EU competition concerns). But Sheffield business can at least benefit from the local broadband Connection Vouchers scheme, which offers up to £3,000 +vat to help SMEs install a superfast connection.

However it’s understood that the new project will be managed by Matt Gladstone, whom is the current executive director of Corporate Services at Barnsley Council, although many may also recall that he was once the director of Digital Region Ltd. Hmm.