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SME broadband voucher scheme now available in Norwich and Ipswich
You can tell it’s election season because politicians are wooing the business community. Whatever your view on the policies, one recent announcement is good for Norfolk and Suffolk businesses. That is the extension of the super connected cities broadband voucher scheme to Norwich and Ipswich.
Like many of you, we were disappointed not to see Norwich in the super connected cities initiative when it launched in 2011. The scheme’s £150m Urban Broadband Fund provides connection vouchers worth up to £3,000 to help SMEs access superfast broadband. It is already available in 22 cities including Cambridge and Peterborough but, up to now, the New Anglia region has missed out.
On 19 February, the government announced that the “broadband connection voucher scheme ...will be available in Norwich and Ipswich from 1 April.” While it is an unfortunate choice of date, you’d be foolish to ignore this opportunity to boost your business’s connectivity and competitiveness. Over 5,000 SMEs have taken up the offer with thousands more expected to do so by 31 March 2015.
Collaboration is key to connectivity
We already have fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) across much of Norwich but installing fibre to the premises (FTTP) can still be prohibitively expensive for many businesses. Even £3,000 in vouchers might not cover the full cost of connection. However, according to the BBC, the scheme has a little known feature that could really boost uptake – the ability for businesses to pool their resources.
Apparently, EU competition rules originally prevented the government from telling people about this feature but that has now changed. However, the only example I can find of such collaboration is at Perseverance Works, a collaborative workspace in Shoreditch (as mentioned in the BBC report). The idea appears to be the brainchild of The Independent Networks Cooperative Association – and anyone interested in exploring it further might like to contact them to find out how it worked.
Supercharge your business
The benefits of superfast broadband are probably obvious to most of you. They include improved customer experience, faster file sharing, enhanced video-calls and more cost effective use of cloud services. As well as boosting individual businesses, this type of investment should enable East Anglia to maintain its position as “one of the fastest growing regions in the UK.”
Naturally, there are various eligibility criteria for the vouchers – you will need to check these carefully when applying. If you run an SME, charity, social enterprise or are a sole trader, you can use the scheme to connect your business premises; this apparently includes your home if it is your main office. The cost of installing a new broadband connection to your business has to be more than £100 and you have to sign a minimum 6-month contract with your supplier. Norwich City Council has now launched the scheme and has full details, including a postcode checker, on it site.
There are now over 600 registered suppliers to the scheme, including many of the big names in the broadband telephony business. While that may seem daunting, we are sure organisations such as NWES, the New Anglia Growth Hub, and Norfolk Chamber will gear up to help local SMEs navigate the application process. We hope this will lead to a higher take-up than elsewhere in the UK, so confirming our region’s appetite for a high-tech future.
If you’d like to discuss any points raised in this blog, please contact me on twitter or by email.