Digital Region has launched the search for a new partner to run its £90 million superfast broadband network throughout South Yorkshire.
Technology companies have until the end of the month to submit their proposals for turning around and expanding the loss-making network.
Digital Region is inviting organisations to tender to run the network for the next seven years.
Its invitation to tender says it is exploring “the possibility of title transfer of network” with the EU commission, but the organisation refuses to say what that means and whether ownership of the infrastructure, built with public money, could be transferred to the successful bidder.
A spokesman for the organisation said: “We are currently carrying out a commercially sensitive process and are unable to disclose further details at this time. A range of options is being considered that will provide the best possible outcome for the project.”
Digital Region says the new partner could be a single organisation or a consortium and would be responsible for “all of the revenues, costs and risks associated with delivering and operating the network.”
French-owned technology group Thales was paid to build and operate the network, set up to open the door to hi-tech jobs and investment, along with revolutionary new Internet-based services and close the digital divide, which has left South Yorkshire lagging up to seven years behind other parts of the UK.
Former regional development agency Yorkshire Forward and South Yorkshire’s local authorities currently bear the risk if income generated by the network fails to cover those payments and provide funding for maintaining and upgrading the network.
Following a £3 million cash injection from the local authorities in April, Digital region announced it would switch to the Government’s new commercial model for public sector superfast broadband networks, designed to make the private sector bear the risk of operating them.
Digital Region’s chief operating officer, David Cowell, said: “Digital Region Limited (DRL) is now undertaking a competitive tender process to procure a private sector operator to manage both the operations and the revenue generation of the DRL superfast broadband network.
“DRL and local authority shareholders are fully aligned with this approach.
“As a stakeholder in the Digital Region project, the European Union will also be consulted regarding the title transfer.”