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Glide Calls on Gigabit Broadband Scheme to Support Urban SMEs

Monday, November 2nd, 2020 (12:31 pm) - Score 1,152
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ISP Glide has criticised the UK Government’s current focus of handing out gigabit broadband vouchers to help upgrade poorly served rural homes and businesses. Instead the provider believes that the public investment could be redirected to help SMEs in business parks and urban edge environments.

At present the £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) includes a budget of £86m for a gigabit voucher scheme (£38m of this has already been allocated and rising), which is focused on providing grants worth several thousand pounds (varies from place to place) to help homes and businesses in rural areas to access a gigabit-capable broadband connection (i.e. helping areas where commercial investment alone cannot reach).

NOTE: The RGC voucher scheme is due to run until March 2021, or when it’s funding runs out, whichever comes first.

Prior to that the Government also ran a £68.5m scheme – Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) – that offered up to £2,500 to help businesses (and some homes, with caveats) gain access to a “gigabit-capable” connection. The GBVS was much more focused on helping SMEs in suburban and urban areas, but its funding dried up in May 2020.

Going forward the Government, through its RGC and forthcoming £5bn investment, have made clear that their focus will be on improving connectivity for those who live in the hardest to reach final 20% of premises (mostly rural areas). The expectation being that commercial operators will deliver for most of the rest by the end of 2025 – without state subsidy, which is a fair assumption (e.g. Virgin Media alone will bring gigabit speeds to around 60% of the UK by the end of 2021 – mostly cities and large towns).

However, Glide appear to be lobbying for a return to the more urban and SME centric nature of the original GBVS scheme, even if it means taking funding away from the rural programme.

Stephen Terry, Glide’s Head of Regulatory & Industry Relations, said:

“The impact of Covid-19 on SMEs means we’re at a critical point. Many have been forced to change the way they operate overnight and the reliance on connectivity has never been more important. As the government encourages us to Build Back Better, it’s essential that they have what they need to survive, or their very existence could be at threat and the livelihoods of many.

According to government headlines, there is huge funding support for fibre infrastructure to bring us towards a fully connected Digital Britain, but the current funding scheme is proving unsatisfactory in getting the funds to businesses who need it right now. RGC (the Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme) necessitates aggregation of demand in order to access vouchers it misses a critical point: individuals require better connectivity now, not when they’ve got enough of their neighbours wanting it too. Standalone vouchers empower each customer to choose their own connectivity when they need it.

Long-term RGC projects are ring-fencing capital for future plans rather than supporting immediate need. As a consequence, businesses are going bust and jobs are being lost – in direct opposition to the scheme’s aims. Many are having to furlough high percentages of their workforce and losing up to 45% of business because of an inability to access technologies due to a lack of gigabit connectivity. Equally, many businesses are now working from home and residential customers are demanding increased capacity, which must cover both business and residential consumption.

Under-allocation of RGC project funding is circa £70 million – coincidentally the same sum as was allocated to the previous voucher scheme initiative, which would sustain nearly 30,000 fibre connections. That’s a lot of jobs saved and businesses back on their feet, future-proofed and ready to grow.

We request that pre-allocated funding within the remit of the RGC voucher scheme is re-allocated to support simple, standalone, individual customer connectivity vouchers. The rules and regulations of the successful Gigabit Voucher Scheme can be easily adopted and the newly stocked scheme can be functional within a very short space of time, giving businesses the lifeline of more immediate fibre connectivity and saving countless jobs.”

At this point it’s worth highlighting that the reason why rural communities often have to encourage neighbours to support related RGC vouchers is because the cost of deploying new connectivity into such areas is disproportionately higher than in urban locations (i.e. a single voucher won’t cover the cost and this was also an aspect of some GBVS projects too).

On the one hand we’d welcome more funding for the areas that Glide have highlighted, but this shouldn’t come at the direct cost of investment in disadvantaged rural communities (especially via already established programmes). Judging by the RGC’s progress and contrary to what Glide says above, the programme is already on-course to consume the vast majority of its funding and bigger operators are now getting involved.

As it stands the Government’s Building Digital UK (BDUK) team within DCMS seem unlikely to be swayed by Glide’s campaign, although that doesn’t mean to say that the future voucher rules couldn’t still be tweaked to make them a bit more widely available; albeit perhaps not in areas where commercial investment remains a viable option.

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar Meadmodj says:

    I have two issues here.

    1) In an environment where OR are now offering free or low cost FTTP provision to New Builds surely it shows that in urban and where there is concentrated requirements like Business Parks that FTTP could easily cost in. Whether it is OR, Hyperoptics, OFNL, Community etc or other that businesses/landlords could collectively engage a provider for FTTP without subsidy. After all SME broadband cost is small in relation to other business costs and are tax deductible.

    2) Most SME broadband requirements are quite modest. Those that need high capacity really should take that into consideration on selecting a location for their business type. Whilst bonding (DSL/4G) may be too costly for most consumers it is a viable option until other networks are available.

  2. Avatar AnotherTim says:

    I find it hard to believe that urban business parks are not commercially viable to the extent that vouchers are required before any ISP will consider them – particularly ones such as Glide that cherry-pick the most lucrative high density areas such as business parks, serviced offices, and high density shared accommodation.

  3. Avatar Jonny says:

    This is the company that responded to a government request indicating they would be installing a network on the business park we currently occupy, ensuring that location didn’t receive BDUK funding, then didn’t deploy anything and never told the council their plans had changed. They will be in my bad books for a while.

    1. Avatar Dan Alvarez says:

      Hi Jonny,

      Thanks for sharing your comments on our piece, I would like to get to the bottom of the thoughts you shared and see what I can do to help. Which area are you referring to please.

      Dan Alvarez
      Head of Sales
      Glide Business

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