Government Suspends SMB Broadband Voucher Scheme


Funds allocated for Super connected cities voucher scheme appear to have been exhausted

The government has suspended its super connected cities voucher scheme, which offers SMBs up to £3,000 to upgrade to superfast broadband.

More than 40,000 businesses have signed up for the scheme, which 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 last year.

Applications were to be accepted until March 2016 or until the funds had been exhausted – a scenario which has now occurred. It is unclear whether more funds will be allocated to continue the scheme to its conclusion.

Super Connected Cities

Fibre Broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012“The funds available to the Scheme are close to being fully committed and we have suspended the scheme,” a notice on the initiatives official website currently reads. “Whilst the Scheme is suspended, cities will not accept applications. A further update will appear here shortly.”

“The broadband connection voucher scheme has been open to SMEs in 50 cities and we are delighted that tens of thousands of businesses have received a voucher, giving them access to an affordable superfast broadband connection,” a Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesperson told TechWeekEurope. We have now suspended the scheme pending confirmation the remaining funds have now been allocated.

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.

Under EU regulations, the government is forbidden from intervening in urban areas, so the existing Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme aiding local authorities is limited to rural areas.

Funds were not ringfenced for individual cities and as of 25 August, the most vouchers had been handed out in London, with 11,664 SMBs in the capital taking advantage.

The North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the Midlands accepted more than 5,000 applications each, but the East of England, South East, South West and North East received less than 2,000. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each received around 2,000.

“The Connection Voucher Scheme and in particular its extension to a wider number of towns and cities, has been a welcome stimulant, encouraging businesses to upgrade to ultra-fast services and more modern pure fibre networks such as those deployed as part of CityFibre’s Gigabit City programme,” James Thomas, director of operations at CityFibre, told TechWeekEurope.

“As a wholesale network provider we have worked with our service provider partners and resellers to help raise awareness of the vouchers and drive take-up. Due to the mounting evidence supporting the positive economic impact of better connected businesses, we positively welcome and support follow on initiatives aimed at accelerating adoption digital infrastructure upgrades in future.”

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