Superfast net update delayed as ‘delicate negotiations’ continue

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EXECUTIVES behind a £100 million publicly-funded superfast broadband scheme last night said they were still not in a position to give an update on the future of the struggling project.

Digital Region, which initially cost the taxpayer £90m and was bailed out with a further £10m of public money earlier this year, was put out to tender at the beginning of May.

Its chief executive David Cowell said he was looking for a “private sector partner” to take on the South Yorkshire scheme and the deadline for expressions of interest was May 31.

Last week a spokesman for the company, jointly owned by South Yorkshire’s four councils and the Department for Business, said a plan for the future would be unveiled this week.

But last night Digital Region said it was still engaged in “delicate negotiations” and would not be able to say how it planned to take the scheme forward.

A spokesman said yesterday: “We had planned to share an update with the public by Friday, but unfortunately that has not been possible.

“It is quite a complicated process that we are going through and we would not want to jeopardise anything which is happening at the present time.

“However we are pretty close to being able to reveal what is happening with the project and hope that in the next few days we will be able to say more.”

No figures have ever been published by Digital Region as to how many subscribers have been attracted to use the fibre optic cables which it laid throughout South Yorkshire’s streets.

When the announcement about involving the private secotr was made in March there was speculation that a major internet provider such as BT or Virgin may come forward to run the network.

However last week experts said that was unlikely because those companies were now rolling out rival services.

Mark Jackson, the editor of ISP Review, a specialist website which examines broadband developments, said the taxpayer should expect to “keep pumping money in for a few years yet”.

The project has been controversial since it began, with the former chief executive of Barnsley Council Phil Coppard saying in its earlier stages that BT had tried to “kill” the project.