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%.