Government pledges £10m to save superfast broadband in South Yorkshire

The government has allocated £10.4 million to South Yorkshire to ensure the region’s superfast broadband plans stay afloat.

Government pledges £10m to save superfast broadband in South Yorkshire

The cash boost comes after South Yorkshire’s existing broadband scheme, Digital Region, collapsed last year. Digital Region’s closure meant the wider region was likely to miss the government’s target of giving 90% of homes access to superfast broadband by 2015.

The government said in January that it would cost around £10 million to plug the gap left by Digital Region’s shutdown, and offered to stump up half the funding via its broadband quango, BDUK.

Now it’s said it will make the full £10 million available to South Yorkshire. Since the investment is “match funding”, South Yorkshire’s four boroughs – Rotherham, Sheffield, Doncaster and Barnsley – will have to make additional contributions themselves in order to qualify.

It isn’t clear yet whether the councils will take up the funding offer. A spokeswoman for Rotherham Borough Council said that “nothing had been decided”, and that a final decision would rest with the region’s local enterprise group, Sheffield City Region. The group has not responded for a request for comment.

BT or not?

The additional £10.4 million is part of the government’s £250 million fund for ensuring 95% of houses get superfast broadband coverage by 2017. That’s an extension of the existing £530 million rural broadband rollout, which aims to give 90% of homes superfast coverage by 2015.

The current programme has been strongly criticised by MPs, who claim most of the funding has gone to BT. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) argued that BT had a monopoly on rural broadband contracts, meaning it would benefit from assets worth £1.2 billion that had been partly funded by the taxpayer.

Although BT has denied that claim, the PAC urged the government to redo its sums before handing out the additional £230 million. The government responded that it was up to councils to determine whether the new funding went to BT or not.

“Procurement will be a local decision – we’re not dictating who the supplier should be,” said a spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. “Where contracts are already in place with BT, local bodies can decide to extend them (within contractual limits) – or to undertake a new procurement, either using the national framework or not.”

The PAC acknowledged its recommendation after being contacted by PC Pro, but has yet to comment.

Update:Both the DCMS and Sheffield City Region have confirmed the four South Yorkshire councils were working together on a new broadband plan, and that the match funding is being considered.

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