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BT could clean up South Yorkshire’s £155 million fibre broadband mess – UPDATED

BT could be given the go ahead to clear up the mess made by South Yorkshire’s £155 million fibre broadband scheme. 

The Digital Region scheme launched in 2008 and connected over 400,000 homes and to fibre-based FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) broadband across Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. 

This was years before other parts of the UK would start to feel the benefits of the government’s BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) scheme and would have given South Yorkshire a head start. 

BT could clean up South Yorkshire’s £155 million fibre broadband mess
Light at the end of the tunnel: BT could rescue South Yorkshire from the Digital Region doledrums

While Digital Region was successful in getting communities connected to superfast broadband, it was less successful in providing a return on investment. The project collapsed last year after costs exceeded £100 million. 

DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), the government department in charge of BDUK, isn’t about to let South Yorkshire fall by the wayside and has announced a £5 million fund to go towards getting the region back up to speed. 

A DCMS spokesperson said: “BDUK has earmarked £5 million 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.” 

BDUK projects are ‘match-funded’ with cash at least equal to the amount put forwards by the central government, meaning that at least £10 million will be spent on re-connecting South Yorkshire. 

The Yorkshire Post reports that £25 million borrowed from the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) has been repaid. Given the costs associated with winding down Digital Region, it’s possible that local authorities won’t want to spend any more money on ambitious broadband projects. 

It’s a foregone conclusion that BT will be the private company that ends up with the job, given that it’s the only company left in the bidding race for contracts. 

DCMS’s spokesperson said that the project would deliver superfast broadband to at least 90 per cent of properties in South Yorkshire. Local authorities have put Digital Region’s network, which already covers 80 per cent of the county, up for sale. 

At the moment it’s unclear if BT will be able to make use of any of Digital Region’s existing infrastructure. 

Update: We’ve heard from a BT spokesperson who said: “The BDUK programme is delivering excellent value across the UK, so naturally we believe it could be a good solution for extending high-speed broadband across South Yorkshire too.

“BT’s fibre network already stretches across much of the region, and we’d be happy to talk to the Government and South Yorkshire’s local authorities, to see if we can support their push to 90 per cent and beyond.” 

Image: Stefan Andrej Shambora

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