A scheme in which the UK government planned to spend GBP150 million (USD232 million) on broadband infrastructure to create 22 ‘super-connected cities’ has been scaled back, The Guardian reports, following legal challenges. As noted in TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, under the original Super Connected Cities Programme (SCCP), in March 2012 chancellor George Osbourne announced that Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds/Bradford, Newcastle and Manchester, along with the four UK capital cities, had all successfully bid to share GBP100 million to help deliver superfast broadband services. The proposals from the ten cities reportedly involved providing superfast access to around 1.7 million premises and 200,000 businesses by 2015.
Now, however, the money looks set to be given instead to small businesses as vouchers designed to pay for installation of faster broadband. The change in plan comes after fixed line incumbent BT and local cableco Virgin Media brought a legal complaint against the fixed line element of the project after both claimed it could benefit rival companies. Subsequently, earlier this month it was reported that the government had decided to scrap the funding scheme in its original form amid suggestions that it was facing a lengthy European Union (EU) investigation in into State Aid infringements. It is, however, understood that the wireless broadband element of the original scheme will move forward.
In launching a public consultation on the revised plans, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport noted that the new proposals were for a ‘demand-side initiative to launch a scheme available initially across the 22 participating cities enabling them to issue a total of up to GBP90 million of vouchers to broadband customers’. This funding, it notes, will primarily target Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and will pay for their initial broadband connection costs, while consideration is also being given as to whether to expand the scheme beyond the SCCP cities. A deadline for submissions regarding the new proposals has been set as 24 July 2013.