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Shropshire and Herefordshire Moot Own Business Broadband Vouchers

Monday, February 15th, 2016 (8:50 am) - Score 420
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The Herefordshire and Shropshire councils appear to have been so impressed by the Government’s recently ended Connection Voucher scheme (here), which gifted grants of up to £3,000 to help smaller UK businesses get a superfast broadband (30Mbps+) service installed, that they’re mooting a local replacement.

At this stage the details are very thin, but the local authorities for Shropshire, Herefordshire and Telford & Wrekin are all working together on a plan that could see European Funding (ERDF) being used to support new grants that would help small and medium sized businesses (SME) in the area to “access business grade broadband services“.

The local authorities predict that, across the Marches area, up to 6,000 SME premises may eventually fall into the “final 5%” and those are the areas that may not necessarily benefit from the on-going Broadband Delivery UK and largely BT fuelled deployment of superfast broadband services (FTTC/P).

The new grant scheme would thus “aim to replicate the key principles of the recently closed Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme” and in keeping with that the participating local authorities have invited broadband ISPs to attend a joint supplier engagement briefing in Shropshire Council’s Shirehall on Friday 4th March 2016, starting at 11.30am.

Statement from Shropshire County Council

The purpose of this high-level engagement is to check our current understanding of what the market has to offer to assist the councils to deliver a project to address a number of specific broadband gaps in the Marches area. This initial meeting is intended as early market engagement only.

The broadband gaps will ultimately present a number of potential commercial opportunities for interested suppliers.

Naturally some local broadband campaigners, such as Patrick Cosgrove of the ‘Shropshire and Marches Campaign for Better Broadband in Rural Areas’, have welcomed the move as “very sensible“, at least provided it is intended to supplement and not replace funding that could otherwise be used to improve domestic connectivity in remote rural areas. At this point it’s worth noting that many of the smallest businesses involve home workers.

Meanwhile those wishing to attend next month’s supplier-only event are being advised to register the names and positions of their delegates with connecting.shropshire@shropshire.gov.uk .

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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4 Responses
  1. Avatar David Cullen

    This is a very welcome initiative from local authorities- even more so because it is a collaboration between them. This shows a commitment to look at things differently, learning the better lessons from the last few years.
    In answer to Patrick’s concern, Vouchers that are funded from ERDF (the European Regional Development Fund)can ONLY be used for economic benefit- so could not be applied to domestic rollout. One can only assume that would continue to be funded by clawback and project management recovery from BT’s projects, alongside more ‘wider thinking’ approaches by altnets. It shold not be a diversion of these funds.

  2. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    David, thanks for the comment. Having thought about it a bit more, I’m assuming that if ERDF money can be used to bring a network into an area to provide for SMEs, other sources of funds (BDUK, private contributions etc) could be used to connect domestic premises to the new network. If, as is often the case, the percentage of home-based business premises in a rural area is over 50%, most of those will want better broadband, and then another 15% or 20% or whatever, comprising domestic premises can sign up using other forms of money. I tried to make this work with last year’s voucher scheme, but we were wrongly advised that farms weren’t eligible, and then time ran out. What isn’t yet known is what categories of SMEs will be classed as eligible based on their ability to contribute to growth. Will lifestyle businesses that simply tick over from year to year be excluded. There’s an awful lot of them. That is an important factor. Anyway, it’s still all rather hypothetical at the moment because proposals have yet to be sought by DEFRA.

  3. Avatar PeterM

    This is very welcome, but when the target users for the vouchers are the final 5% it is absolutely vital that the vouchers are valid for use with Fixed Wireless.

    Schemes like this can also kick start fixed wireless networks for the whole community.

    • I am not sure these can be used to fund infrastructure like that. Just as the original vouchers could only be used to fund a single premises rather than being grouped to fund infrastructure delivering to many I’m unsure these wouldn’t be the same.

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