Following the broadband money

SMEs short-changed in Belfast broadband scheme

with 6 comments

The department of culture, media and sport (DCMS), home to communications ministry and Broadband Delivery UK, has given Belfast city council £13.7m from its Superconnected Cities fund. This fund is designed to provide small and medium enterprises with a “step-change” in the speed of the broadband they use to connect to the  internet.

SMEs can apply for a voucher to the value of £3,000 towards the cost of installing faster internet connections.

The city council added another £3m to bring the total to £16.7m.

Why then does the city say “Over £9 million is going towards the voucher scheme…”? Why not all the money? What will the remaining £7m go on?

Could this provide a clue? “By 2015, the council aims to have improved wireless and wi-fi access across the city, via metro wireless in the city centre and wi-fi hotspots in more public buildings.”

Taxpayers have so far chipped in nearly £24m of the £56m spent so far to get next generation broadband into Northern Ireland, only for Ofcom to report NI still lags the rest of the country in take-up.


Belfast City Council replied: “The remaining portion of the investment package will provide a metro wireless concession to allow in-fill of the 3G/4G service  and an outdoor Wi-Fi for Belfast, as well as the provision of free to the public Wi-Fi in public buildings across the city.  The tender process for the Metro Wireless already has been advertised:  BCC is still in negotiations with other public bodies which will allow us to design the free Wi-Fi in public buildings scheme;  details of this will be published in the coming months, depending on the progress we make in our negotiations.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Executive said on 7 February it would sponsor a further £23.5m investment with BT to fill in some broadband not spots and cover 45,000 more homes at an average cost of  £522/home.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is contributing £9.9m; the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF) £5m; BDUK £4.4million, and BT  £4.2m to the project, which puts state aid intensity at 82%.

This brings the total spent on next generation broadband in Ireland with BT to £93.6m. The 2011 census found 703,300 households in Northern Ireland, which makes the average cost per home passed so far £133.

In July 2011 we were told the NI roll-out was “complete”. Further down in the story BT said “at least 89%” of phone lines would be connected to a fibre-enabled cabinet. The present investment will take that to 95%.


Written by Br0kenTeleph0n3

2014/02/16 at 20:53

6 Responses

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  1. sounds a bit mad dunnit?


    2014/02/16 at 22:02

  2. The original UBF announcements mentioned “high-speed public wifi” and various other pro-business measures, which is on top of the voucher (formerly infrastructure) scheme that’s supposed to receive the lion’s share of funding. Not sure it’s the best use of that money though.. better off focusing upon the wider BDUK sub-urban/rural deployment first.

    • As I recall, the shift to public Wi-Fi was because BT and Virgin Media threatened to go to Europe over BDUK’s efforts to encourage fibre to the premises builds in cities. So it would be wrong to call it “the original UBF” announcements. But I agree entirely that this could be giving taxpayers’ cash to cities to spend on their internal wireless LANs with the public possibly sharing a (congested) channel or two. It’s the government taking from city councils with one hand and giving (some of) it back with the other.


      2014/02/17 at 12:17

      • You mean the late 2012 Birmingham legal challenge? We got the somewhat weak voucher scheme as a result of that mess. The first 2011 shortlist of big cities, before any of that kicked off, still seems to have included plans for “city-wide high-speed mobile connectivity” (wifi, 3g, 4g etc.).

  3. So do you think we’ll see a shortlist of potential suppliers after pre-qualification?


    2014/03/29 at 20:23

    • Certainly worth a phonecall, and if that doesn’t produce results, an FOI request.


      2014/03/30 at 19:06

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