The future of Digital Region, the beleaguered South Yorkshire superfast broadband network, is in doubt.
The FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet)-based network is to be offloaded to the private sector to save costs, after failing to attract enough subscribers.
Despite Digital Region ISPs such as LittleBigOne generating interest, it simply wasn’t enough to keep things going and Doncaster Council has taken the decision to put the whole thing up for sale.
French firm Bouygues Energy and Services (BYES) has been tipped to be the favourite buyer and, should the deal go through, would take on all operating costs and become full owners of the network in 2019.
Read Redcombu Digital’s guide to the Digital Region
The problem is, the EU could veto the selling off of the Digital Region. Paid for with cash from the European Regional Development Fund (EDRF), part of the stated aim was to deliver superfast coverage to 97 per cent of the area. Rollout has stalled at around 80 per cent and its likely that BYES wouldn’t plunge headfirst into connecting the remaining 17 per cent.
The Yorkshire Post has reported that the Digital Region has cost taxpayers more than £100 million. Re-selling the network is expected to cost a further £15 million and on top of this, Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham councils would have to pay an extra £1.3 million each, with Sheffield, which owns twice the amount of shares in Digital Region, coughing up £2.6 million.
Doncaster mayor Peter Davies lambasted the project which was greenlighted by his predecessors: “The council leaders involved thought they were businessmen, but the way the project has gone proves they wouldn’t know how to run a whelk stall. So far in Doncaster it is £10m down the pan, when we need every penny we can get. Since I was elected in 2009, the project has been like having a nail in your shoe.”
We’ve contacted Digital Region for a statement and are waiting to hear back.