£5m from BDUK to rescue South Yorkshire
The Digital Region scheme was ahead of its time when it started, but was slow to deliver and thus resulted in massive overspending and lack of take-up meant the inevitable closure last summer. The Yorkshire Post has followed ever step and indicates that the councils involved are still looking to recover some money by selling the network.
For those who live or work in South Yorkshire and are outside the commercial footprint for Virgin Media and FTTC services from Openreach there is a glimmer of good news, in that the DCMS appears to have earmarked £5m to help fund broadband improvements in the area to take superfast coverage from current commercial levels to around 90% of premises. Of course this £5m on its own would not be enough and would be only made available if Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley councils also contribute some funding and the usual procurement process is undertaken. This means that even if the money was handed over today, it would be unlikely that any project would start until the middle of 2015.
Our gut feeling is that the councils may still believe the old network has some value beyond the scrap value of the cabinets and hardware and hold out for a buyer. The polypipe fibre ducting and powered cabinet stands might be of some value to BT for a BDUK project roll-out, but as most of the cabinets are duplicated by their own cabinets the value will be pretty miniscule compared to the estimated £100m to £155m the Digital Region has cost.
The problem for South Yorkshire may well be that by the time it is clear that a much wider availability of superfast broadband has financial benefits for the area that playing catch-up will not bring the benefits, since businesses will have moved to the other parts of Yorkshire with better connectivity.