City centre will be left two years behind rival cities

Mark Collins of CityFibre

Mark Collins of CityFibre

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It’s a tale of two cities.

York is set to be the UK’s first Gigabit City after four private sector partners launched a project to install fibre optic cables to 80,000 premises across the city. It will have the fastest broadband speeds in Britain - and at no cost to the taxpayer.

In contrast, Sheffield is about to switch off a network which cost £150m of public money.

York’s project is being led by Talk Talk and Sky and is being built by Fujitsu and CityFibre, a British firm which already owns 18,000 miles of cables across the country - including nine miles in Sheffield.

The company, which is cash rich after a £30m funding round in April, says it is keen to expand into Sheffield city centre – which will be left without a fibre network when Digital Region is switched off on August 14.

The Government pulled the plug after it attracted just 3,000 customers and was losing £1m a month. Mark Collins of CityFibre said it meant Sheffield would be left about two years behind other UK cities.

He added: “Digital infrastructure projects must be led by experienced teams expert in building and financing long term infrastructure.

“This expertise was lacking in DRL (Digital Region Ltd), resulting in many errors along its journey. The decision to shut down DRL was the right decision for the councils to make to stop the cash drain.

“On a positive note, having made the decision to abandon it, city leaders now have a clean slate and opportunity to consider a better digital future. Learning from the model in York should be their starting point.”

Digital Region offered “affordable” superfast broadband for about £60 a month, compared to up to £600 a month for a dedicated line. CityFibre reckons its services are faster than DRL and cheaper.

Earlier this month The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce reported that the UK was losing billions of pounds every year because of poor investment in transport and broadband.

Its City Growth Commission report claims the economy has seen five per cent less growth per year between 2000 and 2010 as a result of “chronic” under-investment outside London.

It urged an overhaul of transport, housing and broadband provision while prioritising northern cities.