Digital Region the great sub loop unbundling experiment
The Digital Region project has existed since 2006, and had an original aim for deploying a fibre based service to every property in South Yorkshire. Alas as the costs of doing this have increased targets have slipped back, and while there is no denying that where it is available a great service is delivered, the level of competition from Openreach FTTC services via BT, TalkTalk and Sky (and others) and Virgin Media cable in many areas is affecting take-up.
Doncaster Council is apparently taking out a £6 million loan to cover its share of the increased costs from the project. This is needed so that the project can continue to operate until such time as a preferred bidder is announced in October 2012 who will then take over the service as a commercial proposition.
The Digital Region service is based on VDSL2 operating via cabinets that are sub-loop unbundled from the Openreach copper local loop, and with Openreach offering its FTTC service now in many of the areas, attracting big name providers to the service is becoming harder. Similar difficulties would also exist for any other project that attempts to operate an open access fibre network in the UK, this is not just a factor from the dominance of BT Wholesale in the final 10% of the UK (TalkTalk's own wholesale ADSL2+ network is available to 93% of UK homes), but the simple fact that many providers are wary of the effort in integrating another wholesale network onto their retail platforms.
The Digital Region network has shown what is possible with VDSL2, and if the commercial operator can successfully extend the cabinet network to areas where existing service choice is sparse then chances of high take-up are much better. It may be divisive but perhaps a demand registration scheme like the Google Fibre scheme to decide where Digital Region should go next may help raise awareness of the project, and help spend limited funds in areas where a return on investment is more likely.