SMEs short-changed in Belfast broadband scheme
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: http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/business/investinginbelfast/superconnected-belfast/superconnected-metrowireless.aspx. 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%.