Government Starts Super Connected Cities Broadband Voucher Trial

Edinburgh Carlton Hill Scotland © Keattikorn Shutterstock

Government invites small businesses to apply for broadband vouchers in watered-down vision

The government has invited businesses in five ‘super connected cities’ to apply for grants of up to £3,000 to cover the cost of improving their broadband as part of a new connected voucher scheme.

Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Manchester/Salford will be eligible during the trial as they have been able to demonstrate demand for broadband improvements and interest from the supplier market.

The connected voucher scheme is a system of grants, which replaces a previous ambitious scheme for fast broadband in the cities, and is designed to stimulate the local broadband market and improve digital connectivity in the participating cities in the hope of attracting business and maintaining growth.

Super connected cities

Millennium StadiumOnly businesses with fewer than 250 employees and turnover of no more than £42 million can apply for the vouchers, which represent a significant watering down of the original government proposals.

The government had initially set aside £150m for a super connected cities scheme and invited authorities to bid for the status in 2011 and 2012, with the intention using the money to build superfast broadband and public Wi-Fi networks.

The winning cities were London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton, Hove, Cambridge, Coventry, Derby, Leeds, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salford, York, Newcastle, Manchester, Newport, Aberdeen, Perth and Londonderry.

Birmingham was among the first to announce plans to build its own network, but legal objections were made by BT and Virgin Media because Birmingham City Council intended to reach areas already served by commercial services.

The ISPs were concerned that public funding was going to be used to build a government network to rival their own existing networks, while there were also concerns it could potentially breach European anti-competition rules.

Such worries prompted Edinburgh City Council to halt the construction of its own fibre broadband network and replace it with Wi-Fi hotspots and vouchers for businesses.

The Wi-Fi aspect of the super connected cities programme remains unaffected, with Birmingham agreeing a deal with Virgin Media Business to provide a free Wi-Fi network to residents from September.

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