Monday, September 22, 2014

News: Councils sign up for BT broadband


Local authorities have signed a contract with BT to deliver superfast broadband to 97.9% of South Yorkshire by the end of 2017.

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 £22m plan is part of the government's BDUK project which is based on a gap funded subsidy approach, where the private sector invests alongside a public subsidy to provide broadband to areas where there is not otherwise a viable commercial market.

Rothbiz revealed first that BT's tender for the project was accepted. £7.56m is expected to be provided by BT and £7.425m each by South Yorkshire partners and BDUK. Public sector payments will only be made when certain milestones are met.

The councils had to agree to the funding in order for the contracts to be signed but it is hoped that their share can be met by the LEP's Sheffield city region investment fund for strategic infrastructure investment (SCRIF).

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.

Bill Murphy, managing director at BT Group, said: "Superfast broadband is a key part of the present and future success of the whole of South Yorkshire. The technology is vital to modern life whether you are a high-tech start-up or an established family firm in a traditional industry such as manufacturing. It will become even more essential in the increasingly "connected world" of the future.

"Fibre broadband is now becoming essential for consumers too. Existing broadband is struggling to support the growing number of web based devices in the home. All these devices will be competing for the same limited bandwidth, and basic broadband services with slow speeds will increasingly become a major bottleneck."

James Newman, chairman of the Sheffield City Region LEP, added: "I am delighted that the four South Yorkshire authorities have taken this important step towards reinforcing the Sheffield City Region’s reputation as one of the best places in the country to live, work and invest.

"We have heard time and again from businesses that superfast broadband is no longer a "nice to have", but essential to their competitiveness and long term sustainability.

"I would like to extend my thanks to the four authorities for really taking on board the needs of the private sector, and congratulate them on reaching this important deal with BT."

BT were the only bidders for the contract and will be contractually committed to the 97.9% figure, although specific areas and properties are not yet known. The roll-out plans will be announced in the coming months, following a period of surveying and planning. The first communities across South Yorkshire can look forward to improved access to online services and better connectivity for businesses from summer 2015 onwards.

In a bid to boost business, BT's proposed solution is also set to cover approximately 79% of the South Yorkshire business parks and Enterprise Zones put forward as part of the tender exercise. It is estimated that the project could boost the economy by £271.6m. Rotherham Council believes the Rotherham Borough area "will do very well in respect of its Enterprise Zones and business parks, indeed better than the three other South Yorkshire local authority areas."

Due to its involvement in the failed Digital Region project, South Yorkshire is the last in this current round of BDUK. A combination of delays in appointing a contractor to build and run the Digital Region network, failing to adjust as necessary in a fast-moving business sector and zero income risk being allocated to the network operator made the business hopelessly uncompetitive.

With only 3,000 of the 100,000 customers it needed, the remaining shareholders agreed to halt their search for a private sector partner and begin a managed closure of the fibre optic network. The network was switched off on August 14 and assets are being sold to Geo Networks, part of the American Zayo Group.

Images: BT


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