Friday, July 31, 2015

News: Superfast switch on in South Yorkshire

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Areas of Rotherham are being turned on to high speed fibre broadband as BT finally install new cabinets across most of the borough.

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 (LEP), the Superfast South Yorkshire project is part of the government's BDUK initiative. Based on a gap funded subsidy approach, the private sector invests alongside a public subsidy to provide broadband to areas where there is not otherwise a viable commercial market.

Due to its involvement in the failed Digital Region project, South Yorkshire is the last in this current round of BDUK, the government project with the goal of delivering a fibre point in every community in the UK by the end of 2015.

BT won the tender for the project and this week engineers were five months ahead of schedule as they installed new cabinets in Dinnington, Canklow, Parkgate and Fitzwilliam Road, bringing the new technology in reach of a further 450 homes and businesses during the first phase of the programme which will complete by the end of this year. In total more than 22,000 homes and businesses in the Rotherham area are set to benefit by the end of the 2017.

Cllr. Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council (pictured, right), said: "Superfast broadband is essential if we are to compete in today's world and without this kind of investment, Rotherham will fall behind other parts of the country who are already developing this infrastructure. Both businesses and individuals need fast communications and a high speed internet to have a chance of success and this investment will play a huge role in that by delivering real economic benefits."

Local councils agreed to fund the project up front in order for the contracts to be signed to meet BDUK deadlines. Rotherham Council's contribution so far includes £1.596m in order to allow a contract to be signed and a contribution to a contingency budget of £124,000 and £112,500 towards the costs of employing staff to manage the provision of superfast broadband to the rest of the region.

The business case for the project is recommended for approval at the next Sheffield City Region Combined Authority meeting where £10.6m from the Sheffield city region investment fund for strategic infrastructure investment (SCRIF) is set to provide the local match funding. The initial bid was for £8m from SCRIF with £8m from BDUK and £7.56m coming from BT. Now the total project budget is set to be increased from £22m to £28m.

The authority had asked for details of the full extent of the market coverage, clarification over the BDUK funding and details of the market's plans for broadband in the region.

Other issues were addressed, including the economic impact of the project, analysis of the demand for broadband, BT's winning bid and whether it offers value for money, and a detailed business plan to provide confidence on delivery of the roll-out programme.

£10.4m has been made available from BDUK and the project delivery team have been actively exploring the opportunities to extend the broadband speeds offered on key business parks and Enterprise Zones to guarantee the best speeds possible. It is proposed that the remaining £2.4m, which is not currently proposed to be used in the core programme, could be used to support a proposal specifically for the South Yorkshire Enterprise Zones and key strategic business parks.

BT has been presented with prioritised lists of business locations for consideration of how the sites can achieve maximum coverage and/or be brought forward in the programme to meet BDUK requirements. BDUK have always necessitated that EZs must be a priority and be early in deployment plans.

Fibre to the cabinet will be the main technology used which can deliver speeds of up to 80Mbps to households. Fibre to the premises technology − delivering ultra fast speeds of up to 330Mbps - will also be used in some areas.

Revised estimates of economic outputs includes low end estimates of 315 net additional jobs and £130m in net additional GVA. Value for money analysis establishes that the total public sector cost per net additional job is £66,722, considerably outside the benchmark range and not value for money. Based on a mid-range figure of 648 net additional jobs, cost per job reduces to £32,434.

The report adds: "The variation in this analysis highlights the difficulty in fully understanding the potential economic benefits of investment in superfast broadband. Whilst the project could represent reasonable value for public investment, the Regional Economic Intelligence Unit observations and this analysis highlight the risk that once completed, the project may not support sufficient economic benefits for Sheffield City Region to demonstrate the value of its investment, and this may point to additional work being needed to promote the benefits of up-take to potential business users beyond simply roll-out of the infrastructure."

Superfast Broadband website

Images: RMBC / Superfast SY

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