Broadband back in the slow lane

Workers laying fiber optic cable on Sheffield Road, Rotherham for Thales Telecom Services
Workers laying fiber optic cable on Sheffield Road, Rotherham for Thales Telecom Services
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Sheffield city centre will be without superfast broadband for years after the plug is pulled on the disastrous Digital Region network, experts say.

The big switch off on August 14 will force residents and businesses into a massive technological step backwards as they connect to a standard broadband network 10 times slower than the speeds they currently enjoy.

Only those with deep pockets will be able to pay to have a fibre cable installed - and hooked up to the nearest network operated by a rival - costing about £600-a-month.

South Yorkshire’s four councils were behind a £120m plan to install superfast broadband across the county. But the Government ordered its shutdown last year after only 3,000 people signed up - against a predicted 100,000 - and it lost £1m-a-month.

The switch off will leave hundreds of miles of futuristic equipment in the ground unused.

Jonathan Thornhill, director of Sheffield internet service provider ASK4, said it would be years until the gap in the ‘affordable’ superfast broadband market was filled.

He said: “Because Digital Region was in the city centre first the other network providers went elsewhere. It’s caused a big problem. I think it will take up to three years for the other carriers like Openreach and Virgin to fill the gap.”

Fears that multi-million pound loans from Europe might have to be repaid had put off potential buyers, he added.

A spokeswoman for BT said they covered 175,000 premises in Sheffield - but not the central exchange.

Mike Hull, co-director of SMC Chartered Surveyors on Campo Lane in Sheffield city centre said they were dropping down to standard broadband.

“Currently we use Digital Region, but in mid-August this is being switched off. There is no BT Infinity service in our area so our options are to revert to an inferior ADSL service or to pay for extremely expensive EFM or leased lines which can cost up to £600 per month.

“We are a small company with seven employees, so the expensive options are way too expensive. Unfortunately, the ADSL option is a real retrograde step and it will cost us additional set up costs to migrate to another, lesser service. Given that we are located in the centre of one of the UK’s largest cities, this situation is nothing short of scandalous.’’

All four South Yorkshire councils were connected to Digital Region.

A Rotherham Council spokesman said they were switching to a superfast service with BT and Virgin.

Eugene Walker, acting executive director of resources at Sheffield City Council, said: “As a shareholder in Digital Region Limited we are obviously aware of the closure date and so have been working hard on a plan to move the council broadband services over to Virgin Media Business. This is now being implemented and we expect all our council buildings and schools will be completed by the August 14 deadline to ensure continuity of service.”