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BDUK: SMBs A Priority, But No Plans To Extend Broadband Voucher Scheme

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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BDUK Chris Townsend says small business broadband remains a priority but there are no plans to allocate more money to super connected cities scheme

The CEO of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) has insisted that delivering better broadband to small businesses is a priority but said there are no plans to extend the ‘Super Connected Cities’ voucher scheme that was suspended last year.

BDUK is forbidden from intervening in urban areas due to EU state aid restrictions and the voucher scheme, which offered grants of up to £3,000 for the installation of superfast broadband, helped 55,000 SMBs in broadband ‘notspots’.

The programme initially struggled to attract applicants, before a marketing push and expansion to more cities increased popularity. An additional £40 million was pumped into the project late in 2014 and all the available funds were exhausted by late last year, leading to the programme’s suspension.

SMB Broadband

Birmingham © Shutterstock Feraru NicolaeHowever given that SMBs account for 99.9 percent of the 1.3 million employing firms in the UK, according to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) it was suggested at a Westminster eForum that many small and medium businesses have been left out.

“I’m well aware of this issue,” Chris Townsend, BDUK CEO told the eForum. “The voucher scheme won’t be extended at this point in time. But with all the work with local bodies and devolved governments we’re doing all we can to target business parks and other areas.

“One of the most amazing facts I’ve learned in my travels is the amount of employment that comes through SMBs. Urban bodies are aware of the importance and the good news is many of these businesses are outside the city centre and we’re working hard to identify them.

“It’s a priority for us but I can’t say much more at the moment.”

Despite the suspension of the programme, many providers, such as CityFibre and KCOM, waived installation fees. However they still called for more money to be allocated.

BT has recently announced plans to cover two million properties with fibre to the premise (FTTP) and will “disproportionately” target businesses in the rollout.

The super connected cities vision was originally intended to provide the winning cities with funds to build superfast broadband and public Wi-Fi networks. However following legal challenges from ISPs, this was watered down to a voucher scheme, although the Wi-Fi aspect has remained unaffected, with BT and Virgin Media building wireless infrastructure for city councils.

London-based business were the most active, receiving more than 14,500 vouchers, while the North West had 8,200 successful applications and Yorkshire and the Humber 7,400. Scotland and Wales both had almost 3,000 vouchers allocated, while Northern Ireland just a shade under 2,500.

A full city by city breakdown can be seen below.

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super connected city voucher scheme Nov 2015