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Government extends business broadband voucher scheme but ‘more needs to be done’

Monday, December 8th 2014 by Hannah Langston

The government’s connection voucher scheme, which offers businesses up to £3,000 towards the cost of a broadband upgrade, has been extended to March 2016.

According to the government's 2014 National Infrastructure Plan the project, which was due to close next spring, will receive a £40 million cash boost so it can run for another year.

Commenting on the announcement, Federation of Small Businesses chairman John Allan said: “There are still too many small businesses struggling with slow speeds and unreliable connections.

“The extension and additional funding for the broadband connection voucher scheme announced in the National Infrastructure Plan is good news, but much more can still be done to increase access to affordable broadband that meets the needs of small businesses.”

More urban locations will also be added to the scheme, which is currently only available to businesses in 22 UK cities. However, Mr Allan argues that it should also be open to companies in other parts of the country.

“Targeting business parks in this scheme would be one of the most effective ways of providing more small firms with the services they need,” he said.

The connection voucher scheme has faced criticism since its launch in 2013, as only £10.5m of the £150m fund has been awarded and just 3,000 businesses have received vouchers.

Cotswolds Broadband CEO Hugo Pickering previously told Cable.co.uk the scheme “wasn’t marketed very well”.

“People have no idea it exists. If people know, it’s because someone told them,” he said.

In recent months, the government has changed the way the voucher scheme is handled, including introducing a streamlined application process to make the funds more accessible and a redesigned website.

Commenting on the changes announced this week a DCMS spokesperson said: “The voucher scheme is an excellent and innovative way of helping SMEs in urban areas get the broadband capability they need from the supplier of their choice, and we want to see as many businesses as possible benefit from it.

“We’re on track to issue 10,000 vouchers by March 2015. All the money has been allocated to the 22 Super Connected cities to deliver free wi-fi in 1,000 public buildings and a range of cutting edge technology projects, as well as the connection vouchers initiative. The cities will continue to draw down funds as work completes throughout the life of the programme.

"We have been working with local authorities to promote the scheme, and along with an advertising campaign we have developed a suite of marketing tools which we have shared with cities and suppliers to use in their own marketing activity”.

Image courtesy of Konstantin Panphilov

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