AN innovative scheme which could see local water networks used as a conduit for delivering high-speed broadband to homes and businesses was launched in Barnsley this week.

The new proposals to accelerate the roll-out of broadband without digging up roads would see fibre-optic cables placed through 17km of drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone - if an investigation into its possibility is a success.

About 8,500 homes and businesses could then gain better access to the internet, if broadband companies tap into the network and deem the scheme - dubbed Fibre in Water - feasible.

A launch event, which saw Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis and Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates attend, took place at the Digital Media Centre on County Way.

Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman MP, said: “It’s hugely exciting to have this ground-breaking project kick-off.

“We’re on a mission to deliver better connectivity to hard-to-reach areas and water pipes could be a quicker and cheaper way to connect communities most in need with the fastest full fibre broadband.

“If successful, Fibre in Water could help bring the benefits of faster internet speeds to thousands of people in South Yorkshire and the rest of the UK.”

Analysts at Yorkshire Water would be able to use the cables to detect cracks, bursts and leaks so that they can be repaired quicker, reducing water loss and disruption to customers, leaders behind the scheme believe.

The solution would also reduce the need to dig up roads and land to lay cables, making the deployment of fibre optic broadband less disruptive to local residents.

Sam Bright, innovation programme manager at Yorkshire Water, added: “The technology has significantly progressed in recent years and this project will now enable us to fully develop its potential to help improve access to better broadband in hard-to-reach areas and further reduce leakage on our networks.

“It was great to bring a wide range of stakeholders and organisations together at the Digital Media Centre for the launch of this project.

“We are very pleased that the government is supporting the development of the Fibre in Water solution, which could reduce the environmental impact and day-to-day disruptions that can be caused by both water and telecoms companies’ activities.”

Ms Cates said that the proposal will benefit constituents in the most rural areas using ‘private’ 5G technology to deliver broadband to ‘very remote premises’ in the west of Penistone.

She added: “Rural areas can be hard to reach but under the fibre in water proposals I’m supporting, existing Yorkshire Water pipes would be used to extend the fibre broadband network from Barnsley out to Penistone via Dodworth.

“This network would deliver faster internet access and better connectivity for communities currently affected by slow speeds and in areas where it would not normally be commercially viable to build new broadband infrastructure.”