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Fears that Digital Region project may stall
Tuesday 19 July 2011 15:28:02 by Andrew Ferguson

The Yorkshire Post has highlighted the fact that low take-up for the Digital Region project in South Yorkshire means a lack of funds for the final 17% of the roll-out that was originally intended to be funded via profits from the first 80% of the roll-out.

Digital Region appeared on the scene in 2008, with a £112m plan to provide VDSL services to some 97% of homes and businesses in South Yorkshire. This was at a time when the nascent FTTC/P plans from Openreach were just plans; by the time the Digital Region project started taking live customers in 2010, the competition would be much greater.

The lack of take-up we suspect is down to a number of factors:

  • Price compared to existing broadband solutions
  • No big household name signed up to offer the service
  • People in the areas where it has rolled out already, happy with the 5 to 8Mbps they actually already receive, or may already have Virgin Media cable broadband.
  • Competing roll-out of FTTC by Openreach/BT Wholesale based providers
  • Lack of awareness that this option is available to people in the area, the Digital Switchover project may be confusing some people due to the similarity in naming.
  • Difficulty in finding information for consumers - it took four clicks to find the four residential providers on the Digital Region website, and then having to look at each site in turn to find pricing.

Price wise, a basic up to 24Mbps downstream (2Mbps upstream) 50GB a month service can be purchased for £16.50 a month, which when you compare it in advertising terms to the local provider Plusnet, which charges £11.49 for its 60GB up to 20Mbps service (10GB at £6.49), looks a lot more expensive. Though due to the FTTC architecture of Digital Region the vast majority of customers should connect at 24Mbps, where as Plusnet and all other ADSL2+ based providers will have a much lower average connection speed. Plusnet do offer FTTC services now from £16.49 a month, thus are comparable on price, but generally even with established providers take-up is still a lot lower than the standard products.

The Yorkshire Post has restated claims by a Barnsley Council member that BT is over-charging. Something that was a common complaint when LLU services were entering the mainstream in 2005/2006, back then the early entrants into LLU were not always the ones to have mass success. The old problem that trail blazers do the hard work for the savvy business person to later make a killing is very true.

Looking to the future, one possibility is that Digital Region may receive some funding from the BDUK to help reach the final 17% of its plan. In some ways the mistake of the original plan was to try and compete in cities and urban areas, limited roll-out in these areas to provide council and business services, with residential services concentrated on the areas where there is likely to be less competition would likely have created higher take-up.

Digital Region does carry a very salient warning to those parts of the UK currently looking into how to handle the BDUK funding as an open wholesale network is no guarantee of success. The vast majority of the public are unlikely to switch broadband provider until their existing broadband provider contacts them to offer an upgrade. Also the price must compete with what is already available, as many will look at the price tag before considering anything technical about the service even if they do.

Comments

Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
Many people will have bundles with ISPs like Sky which discourage changing. Also for many there are no applications they need that require a speed upgrade. Again it's the no and slo-spots that need sorting.
Posted by herdwick over 5 years ago
An open wholesale network is almost a guarantee of failure if you don't pre-load it with attractive and competitive retail providers people have heard of. When "Broadband from Yorkshire" (ie Plusnet) isn't available on Digital Region FTTC it's a poor start.
Posted by Tufty22 over 5 years ago
I have been a Digital Region consumer for around 2 months (with ASK4) and whilst the network and customer services are both excellent I fear not enough marketing is being done to advertise this. BT and the other LLU providers have a far better attitude to selling there services and will ultimately succeed. I wonder if DRL plan on being 'sold' to BT for a knock down price?
Posted by black5 over 5 years ago
i,dont think many people in south yorkshire have heard about digital region this is one of the probelms with low take up.Also not doing slo-spots is not helping and not even having plans to do places like stocksbridge sucks.
Posted by christopherlyon over 5 years ago
Its a shame if it happens. I always though it would be best if the money was spent funding a Openreach FTTC roll out though.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
They should have concentrated on building decent networks to notspots and slow spots with their own fibre and own peering instead of trying to resell from wholesale competing against BT and virgin in areas of high population density. Who can compete against the incumbents marketing budgets? Build real NGA networks and stimulate competition. That's the secret. I agree with previous comments, people don't like change, and next to exchanges most are happy with the current offerings. FTTC isn't much of an improvement for those people.
Posted by New_Londoner over 5 years ago
Difficult to see how this project could justify BDUK money when its already had significant public funds to set up. I would have thought there are other parts of the country far more deserving of BDUK funds than here, especially when there is local competition in Yorkshire - wouldn't this make yet more state aid illegal anyway?
Posted by shaunhw over 5 years ago
Low take up ?

Hardly surprising. They just enabled our exchange at Wickersley. All I can get from them is an ADSL2 connection, inferior to the one I have got from BE/O2. No FTTC or new cabinets anywhere round here. No static IPs available unless you are a business company, from one of the very few providers offering service on the network. They dug up the main road and caused inconvenience. In return we, who live on it, or just off it, got absolutely nothing for the trouble we were caused.
Posted by tikka69 over 5 years ago
@shaunhw

The reason you can only get an ADSL2 connection is that your BT line will be direct back to the exchange, not via a PCP. The only way you will change this is by moving house, as VDSL2 is not yet an option on the exchange dslam ( due to BT restrictions ). The kit is quite capable of it.

As for the cabinet rollout, there are 22 live cabinets fed from the Wickersley exchange up to now plus the one in the exchange itself for your info.

The IP allocations are down to the individual ISP's, not the DR network.
Posted by tikka69 over 5 years ago
@ herdwick

Seeing as though Plusnet is owned by BT now, I can't see them rushing to join a wholesale network that is in competition with another part of there own company, can you ?
Posted by Bob_s2 over 5 years ago
This is the usual case of once competition moves in BT suddenly decided to upgrade the area

THe other big problem is the oiecemeal way the government are going about things. We get dozens of small local networks being setup (They tried this with Cable & it did not work)
These networks will be expensive and the big ISP's will not be intereted as they will not want the complexity and cost of dealing with dozens of companies

What is need is a competitor to BT at the local loop level.
Posted by tmcr over 5 years ago
I'm in South Yorkshire. I heard about the project a while back and send email to all 4 potential ISP's, <SAD>I was supposed to be on their mailing lists for information as it happened - so far I've heard nothing.</SAD>
I'm on Virgin Cable, so no real incentive to move as I'm happy with what I have, <RANT>apart from the price. Virgin's 10Mb option is £26 a month as an existing customer, and is being touted as £6.50 for 6 months then up to £13 a month, but only for new customers.</RANT>
Posted by tmcr over 5 years ago
If Digital Region want to be a success then they need to advertise the fact they exist. <PLUG> I would suggest they look at a new level of advertising, using community radio. The guys there will be interested in doing an interview as well as advertising the new service, at a fraction of the cost of traditional media adverts </PLUG>
Posted by FibreGuy over 5 years ago
@Bob_s2:

There is a basic difference between original cableTV story and local community networks.

Cost of Content vs Cost of IP transit and peering.

If the big ISP's choose not to be bothered to serve customers then they go the way of the dinosaur.

Actually what does any ISP do these days that Internet Access Providers (IAP) don't make available to customers by definition?

Posted by walkerx over 5 years ago
@tmcr - they need more than just advertising, the isp's need to improve on their customer service, they also need to be regulated by ofcom and information needs to be advertised in regards to problems with lines
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