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Collaborating on broadband grants brings 'real benefits' for businesses

Thursday, December 18th 2014 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Businesses that share premises are teaming up to get more money from the government's broadband voucher scheme, according to the man running the programme in Leeds and Bradford.

Companies applying to the Superconnected voucher scheme individually can get up to £3,000 towards the cost of installing superfast broadband, but working together they can access much more.

Mark Durham, programme manager for Superconnected Leeds Bradford, said: “We’ve had about 30 group applications across Leeds and Bradford and I think that’s where the real benefits in the scheme lie,” he told Cable.co.uk.

“You can add up the value of the vouchers so if there are 10 businesses located in a multi-tenanted property they can have 10 x £3,000, so £30,000 of funding.

“For that kind of capital investment you can get a very good dedicated leased line into that property and then share that out between the tenants within the property.”

Mr Durham said that for many businesses, the monthly cost of having a leased line was as prohibitive as the installation costs.

“With a shared leased line you can share that monthly cost between however many businesses are involved and you can bring the costs down to a more realistic and affordable level for a small business,” he added.

Almost half of the businesses applying for vouchers in Leeds and Bradford have download speeds of 5Mbps, said Mr Durham.

“If you’re trying to run a business with that kind of speed it’s incredibly inefficient, frustrating, and really you can’t access some of the key business technologies that most businesses are accessing these days like cloud computing and video conferencing.”

'Businesses need to be told'

Mr Durham said the voucher scheme worked well with another government project increasing the amount of fibre to the cabinet to 97% availability in Leeds and Bradford.

“The two things tie in together. Where FTTC is available, businesses can get a voucher to connect to that nearest cabinet, so the more FTTC that’s available we’ve found we can issue more vouchers as well.

“They do work together well but I think businesses probably need to be told that their cabinets have been enabled. Wherever a cabinet is enabled, we write to them and tell them firstly that the cabinet is enabled and secondly there is a connection voucher available.”

The voucher scheme, run by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK), has been extended for 12 months from its original March 2015 cut-off, but Mr Durham said he was “keen to extend a scheme, whether it’s in its current form or a different scheme beyond the end of March 2016”.

“We’ll have to see what funds are available, whether there’s European or national government funding or even local council funding available,” he said.

“It’s hard to say because it may be that the momentum keeps on rising and that BDUK see fit to extend the scheme beyond March 2016.

“It may be that we’ve satisfied all the demand out there for superfast broadband and the scheme is dwindling by then, we really don’t know.

“I would hope that we’ve still got the momentum in a year’s time and that funding is available and if it is then we’d look to extend the scheme beyond that.”

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