The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has announced that the Government’s Connection Vouchers scheme, which uses part of the £150m Urban Broadband Fund (“Super-Connected Cities“) to help SME businesses install superfast broadband (30Mbps+), has finally started to go live in 22 cities across the United Kingdom.
The final scheme doesn’t appear to have changed much since the autumn trial and continues to offer grants worth up to £3,000 +vat for individual premises (i.e. any small or medium sized firm of up to 249 employees with a turnover no greater than Euros 42m per year) to help them get connected to a 30Mbps+ capable broadband service. However the eligible business still has to pay the VAT, line rental and any general service charges.
The first 10 major cities will be opening for applications during December 2013 and the final 12 should be ready by March 2014. The scheme, which will gobble around £100 million from the UBF budget, is expected to remain open until March 2015.
Matthew Hancock, Enterprise and Skills Minister, said:
“I’m delighted that on the national day for small businesses, Small Business Saturday , we can demonstrate our commitment to making it easier for small businesses to grow.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the British economy and responsible for nearly half the job creation in the UK. That’s why we are removing barriers to growth and supporting them, so that they can create jobs and compete in the global race.”
The 10 Largest UBF Cities (Funding)
* Edinburgh – Capital of Scotland (£10.7m)
* Belfast – Capital of Northern Ireland (£13.7m)
* Cardiff – Capital of Wales (£11m)
* London – Capital of England (£25m)
* Birmingham (£10m)
* Bradford + Leeds (£14.4m joint bid)
* Bristol (£11.3m)
* Newcastle (£6m)
* Manchester (£12m)
The 12 Smallest Cities
* Brighton and Hove
It’s worth remembering that the money for all this wasn’t originally intended to be used on connection vouchers and indeed the Government had an ambition towards it being spent upon the construction of new “ultra-fast” 80-100Mbps+ capable broadband infrastructure.
Unfortunately the fear of network overbuilding triggered legal challenges from BT + Virgin Media (here) and meanwhile Europe also expressed competition concerns about investing state aid in urban areas, which the private sector should already be able to cover (here). In the end the Government decided it would be quicker to simply offer Connection Vouchers.
Sadly those hoping that the Government might extend the money to cover rural areas will be disappointed. Today London is among the first wave of UK cities to launch the voucher scheme. It will initially be available across 6 boroughs later this month and then it will be introduced in the other 27 boroughs during early 2014.