Monday, July 14, 2014

News: New broadband project set to miss out Sheffield city centre

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The new £20m superfast broadband project being progressed in South Yorkshire could boost the economy by £271.6m but it is unlikely to cover Sheffield city centre after the contracting body, BDUK, identified that it is not eligible for inclusion in the project under the current rules.

Developed by a partnership with the leadership of the four partners' authorities in South Yorkshire, alongside the support of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, the plan has been approved by BDUK, the government project with the goal of delivering a fibre point in every community in the UK by the end of 2015.

The South Yorkshire project will target so called "white areas" that do not have access to next generation (fibre optic) broadband.

Broadband suppliers have been contacted regarding their current and future plans for South Yorkshire so that target areas can be established. Almost 80% of residential and business premises in the region will have access to next generation broadband in the next three years by way of commercial activity already undertaken or planned by operators.

The remaining 20% of South Yorkshire will form the next generation broadband intervention area of the project with around 2% (mostly rural areas) to form the basic broadband intervention area of the project.

The broadband scheme is seeking £8m funding from the Sheffield city region investment fund for strategic infrastructure investment (SCRIF) over 2015/16 and 2016/17. £12m will be secured from other funds such as BDUK and the private sector (BT).

Bidders believe that broadband connectivity is essential for building a strong and competitive economy resulting in economic growth and creating more and better jobs. They hope that the project will boost gross value added (GVA), a measure in economics of the value of goods and services produced in an area, by £271.6m.

Last week Rotherham Council agreed to underwrite the required local funding contribution of £1.596m in order to allow a contract to be signed with BT in August.

The project follows on from the £90m Digital Region project which is currently being closed down after it failed to attract customers. Recent estimates from Sheffield Council put the cost of closure at £83m, and with a Rotherham Council owning 9.55% of the non-trading company, the closure could cost them around £8m.

The new project is being led by Matt Gladstone, executive director of Corporate Services at Barnsley Council, the former assistant chief executive at Rotherham Council and a director of Digital Region Limited.

The aim of Digital Region was to bring continuous 25mb+ broadband to over 97% of South Yorkshire, including 550,000 homes and 1.3 million people. Work on installing the network started in 2009, and by 2012, completion of phase one of the project saw 80% of homes and businesses within South Yorkshire able to be linked to the network.

It is not yet clear what will happen to the Digital Region infrastructure when the network is switched off in August.

The project may have closed but it has prompted BT to upgrade its own fibre broadband network in the region. By the end of this year some 80,000 local homes and businesses in Rotherham will be able to benefit from BT's £2.5 billion fibre broadband roll-out programme.

Whilst fibre broadband (FTTC) is available at BT's exchanges in areas such as Rotherham town centre, Rotherham North, Maltby and Dinnington, BT has not yet upgraded key exchanges such as Attercliffe and Sheffield city centre.

Given the strategic importance of the city centre to the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership's economic plan, there could be a further request for consideration of a further broadband scheme, focused on the city centre. This position is under review.

BDUK website

Images: BT Openreach

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