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Digital Region in South Yorkshire to close
Thursday 15 August 2013 14:25:00 by Andrew Ferguson

We have just found out that Digital Region has announced the closure of its service in South Yorkshire.

This announcement may be of little shock to those who have followed the story, and it seems migration to alternative providers should be relatively smooth particularly as Openreach has just announced that problems with generating Migration Authorisation Codes (MAC) between sub-LLU SMPF services and LLU SMPF have been resolved.

The signs that this announcement was due anytime were clear once Digital Region started to be discussed in the House of Commons with the Government wanting to reduce its exposure to any further costs. This fear of risk is a theme running through how other broadband projects are run across the UK and is also why the technically most elegant solutions have not been used widely, but rather the more cost efficient solutions that carry the least risk for surprise to meet the targets.

"Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield councils – along with major shareholder, the Government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) – have agreed that a managed closedown of the network and migration of existing Digital Region Limited customers to alternative networks now offers the most cost-effective deal for the public.

The estimated cost of continuing with the project would be an estimated £95.8 million. Closure of the network would save the taxpayer an estimated £12.5 million, and potentially more, subject to negotiations with existing contractors and customers."

Extract from closure notice for Digital Region

Digital Region had the potential to serve some 3.5% of the UK population but with just 3,000 subscriptions in the years when its coverage was 80% of the area it was meant to service it appears that the public either did not know about the service, or was only ever interesting in signing up with the big names they see on TV all the time.

For those customers on the network the question will be what happens next, it is a case of talking to your service provider who may simply migrate you to an Openreach based FTTC service if available. There are a number of wholesale operators who can quickly take on customers that utilise the FTTC market without the need for the retail provider to make a large investment in network changes. Certainly there is no suggestion that anyone is going to go around and rip the cabinets out of the ground in the next few days.

Digital Region has been an interesting experiment, but joins the list of subsidised operations in both the broadband and many other sectors where once the public purse strings tighten the service or facility can no longer operate. The biggest question will be what will happen in South Yorkshire now with regard to the national target of 2 Mbps for virtually everyone and 90% getting superfast broadband in 2015, rising to 95% in 2017. There was a few million kept back by the BDUK for contingency funds, so this may be called upon. There is a reasonable danger that South Yorkshire may simply have to wait for more improvements now till post 2015 as the UK 90% target can still be met by virtue of some counties taking their superfast coverage beyond 90%.


Posted by tmcr over 4 years ago
It's been a black hole since it started, with money from the councils vanishing at a rapid rate, yet information to potential customers wasn't as forthcoming. Very disappointed with DR.
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago
The problem was it was a DIY solution for an area, rather than a hook up with an existing supplier to provide a service and marketing (sic. Cornwall and BT).
They could have chosen any large telecoms, VM, BT, Fujitsu, etc... instead they had a steep learning curve and funds that went on unnecessary wheel reinvention.
Posted by jdelaney78 over 4 years ago
Finally. Now we can move on in South Yorkshire. Commercial providers please come back. All is forgiven.
Posted by ukhardy071 over 4 years ago
The worst part about this is it stopped BT infinity where everybody wanted it. BT infinity had the areas in their roll out plans. The areas were then removed thanks to this. It was a waste of money in places that WOULD have got BT infinity. Also most areas had Virginmedia already. They came to highly populated areas like Doncaster and Sheffield. They cover an old address of mine which is extremely populated, has 4G with EE. Virginmedia since the 90s. BT infinity has now re-rolled out to this old address (since this was a failure), had about 8 LLU suppliers
Posted by ukhardy071 over 4 years ago
& when they arrived they didn't advertise. I didn't even know it existed for a good year and then when I looked into it there were no commercial big providers. I already had 15Mbps on ADSL, could get 50Mbps on virgin. I didn't bother... Nobody did. Ask anyone around where I lived they would have no idea (even now) who the hell digital region are.
Posted by KarlAustin over 4 years ago
The problem was the people in charge, they had no idea how the industry works which led to a technically inept product to start with, which was wholly unsuitable for ISPs to integrate, made worse by lack of API and willingness to work with ISPs who had demand in an area not yet rolled out.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
Check Please !
Posted by unobroadband over 4 years ago
It wasn't even just the lack of understanding how things should work with a wholesale network.

Their wholesale costs, for the product were unrealistic too.

Could have been good, mismanaged and now, just a waste.
Posted by KarlAustin over 4 years ago
The pricing issue is fundamentally a lack of understanding of the industry and their likely target market - which is down to the people in charge. The pricing when you consider the bandwidth guarantees wasn't that bad - but most people in reality don't care about the guarantees, they have been conditioned on price.

It's a shame, as it now means we'll have to drop back to 22Mbit on Annex M now :/
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
What's the big number at the bottom of this farce then ?
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
Gosh, nearly half a hospital.
Posted by Sam1409 over 4 years ago
Their aspiration to get 30% of the South Yorkshire market whilst been shackled by state aid regulation was a none starter. The only way to get that market share would have been to start being disruptive to the market on price( cheaper ) or on technology (direct fibre to the home)

They ended up not doing either, being more expensive and delivering over copper for the last mile. This was highlighted as a flaw in the business model at a very early stage with Thales and Yorkshire forward and they preceded anyway
Posted by Sam1409 over 4 years ago
The press has said that technology and companies caught them up such as BT. Any business plan would have identified that threat and pointed to the delivery as a unique selling point and highlighted that as a potential differentiator, thus circumventing the threat. They could not even do that. Bad plan and bad management
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago

A traditional build hospital (just the structure) or a Labour PPP built hospital?
Posted by WWWombat over 4 years ago
It seems certain that the failings of this project have been known for a long time, and have played a not-insignificant part in guiding the shape of the BDUK projects and contracts.

It almost certainly led to every county opting for gap-funding models. I'd also make a guess that it led to the DCMS restrictions that meant only BT and Fujitsu qualified to bid.

Having pointed BDUK in it's current direction, it is a shame that South Yorkshire will now have to play catchup with their local broadband plans to be able to take part in even the 2017 rollout.
Posted by Sam1409 over 4 years ago
Most of the instigators in this ended up in jobs with bduk and other tech projects. I would bet there will be a can of worms at bduk in 6 months time!
Posted by haydnwalker over 4 years ago
I'm VERY disappointed the service is to close, as its been a good experience for me. I'm very concerned now that I'll be migrated over to the Openreach network and have to choose a large ISP that I've attempted to avoid for years! Also, my line is a data only line so there will be the requirement to get a land line also at a £15/month-ish cost!
Posted by Somerset over 4 years ago
17 home ISPs to chose from.
Posted by tmcr over 4 years ago
If only they had let people know this service had been available all this time...
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago
This reminds me of where i said that local gov should build the ducting and rent it out to ISPs to fill with their fibre. £95m would have gone a long way and there would have been a real ROI for the tax payer.
Posted by KarlAustin over 4 years ago
@haydnwalker - No such thing as a data only line at Openreach. It's just a normal LLU phoneline that your provider has chosen not to provide a voice service on, which they could if they chose to. This arrangement could continue depending on who your provider migrates their wholesale services to - Origin certainly have a plan in place for their customers so they don't have to leave Origin.
Posted by haydnwalker over 4 years ago
My ISP is Ask4. They don't AFAIK provide usual ADSL services away from Multi-tenanted buildings so I'm not sure I'll be able to stay with them unless they plan to put something in place. I have contacted them today and they said that when they knew, then the customers would I'm guessing nothing agreed yet.
Posted by Mapoo over 4 years ago
I joined Origin on the DRN in February speed and service has been fantastic better than my stupid 4.5mb connection, I am running at 22.50mb and upload is 10mb. Sadly this is happening and now abit sad but our ISP Origin said. Service will continue as normal. If this is ever to change - or any change is to be made to your service, you'll be notified well in advance. So im just hoping it stays with the Speeds, or abit of good luck BT might buy the Fibres, because BT has never been able to bring the Infinity to our areas and other areas where the DRN is enabled. Maybe they can now.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
BT had been in the running to buy the network, but they opted for a French firm.

So unless the old hardware comes almost free I doubt BT will be that interested in running it. Parts may be absorbed in areas where they have no FTTC possibly, but am expecting it to be more a case of people like Origin/Ask4 entering into wholesale agreements with TalkTalk wholesale to migrate people to Openreach FTTC
Posted by KarlAustin over 4 years ago
I suspect Ask4 may let Origin take over their small number of DR customers and Origin have plans in place.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
@themanstan the capital cost of a hospital fitted out.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
The SYDR project did not attract any interest from big name retailers, so I doubt a duct network would have attracted any primary wholesale providers - so the ROI would have been less than zero and there would be a pointless pipe in the ground.
Posted by Somerset over 4 years ago
Where they went wrong 'Of the total number of premises able to benefit from the Digital Region network, approximately 250,000 were experiencing very poor or non-usable broadband services at the time of the network design.'

Not looking beyond the time of the network design.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 4 years ago
@Somerset: "Not looking beyond the time of the network design." Agreed. They should have forced BT and any other provider to disclose their fibre and VDSL rollout plans for a given number of years ahead.
Posted by themanstan over 4 years ago

BT were only given the green light in 2009 for entry into the fibre market. DR project started the month after OFCOM allowed BT to enter the fibre market...
There would have been no significant plan yet to share, exchange level trials for FTTC started in June 2009, product launch was January 2010 for the first 29 exchanges.
How long should DR have waited?
Posted by Somerset over 4 years ago
@JNeuhoff - BT and others could have said we plan 95% coverage in 5 years. Where would that have left DR? As it was many saw that BT would roll out extensive FTTC for its ISP customers like Sky and TalkTalk.
Posted by rainman100 over 4 years ago
And they were going to build a dome over Barnsley, lol.Must watch that on tele tonight see what it would have been like.
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
"They should have forced BT and any other provider to disclose their fibre and VDSL rollout plans for a given number of years ahead." - illegal under competition law I suspect.
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