City broadband in slow lane

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 pay to have a fibre cable installed - and hooked up to the nearest rival network - costing about £600-a-month.

South Yorkshire’s four councils were behind a £120m plan to install ‘affordable’ 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 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 confirmed 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.

Given we are in the centre of one of the UK’s largest cities, this situation is nothing short of scandalous.’’