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Broadband funding boost for small business

14 Feb 2014

A £16.7 million investment in ultrafast broadband means Belfast is on the cusp of a digital revolution that will transform the way the city does business, Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said today.

He was speaking as he officially launched a the Belfast Connection Vouchers Scheme at City Hall today. It is part of the Super-Connected Cities initiative by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in Westminster, which awarded Belfast City Council £13.7 million from its Urban Broadband Fund. 

The city council has also put up £3 million as part of its £150 million Investment Programme, a key part of which is aimed at putting Belfast at leading edge of connectivity by 2015.

Over £9 million is going towards the voucher scheme which will give  which will give small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) , social enterprises and charities the chance to apply for up to £3,000 grant funding towards the cost of installing faster internet connections.

The council ran a pilot scheme last year in the city to test trade take-up for Connection Vouchers. Target locations were identified in the Cathedral Quarter, City East, Ormeau Business Park, Ortus, Argyle Business Park, North City Business Centre and the Harbour Estate.

The Lord Mayor said: “The Super-Connected Belfast initiative will put Belfast on the map. It will provide the infrastructure to allow our indigenous businesses to reach their full potential from their Belfast base, while it will encourage major international companies already here to stay and encourage others to consider investing in the city.

“The Belfast Connection Vouchers Scheme is a super opportunity for our small and medium-sized businesses, charities and social enterprises to reap the rewards from having superfast broadband.

“The benefits are enormous from increasing efficiency saving time and resources; reducing the need for business travel; increasing productivity through faster processing times and quicker communications with suppliers and customers.

“Increased productivity can free up time for local companies to explore new products and services and grow their businesses. High grade broadband is further more reliable with businesses benefiting from service level agreements from their suppliers ensuring they get the support they need.

“From our pilot Belfast Connection Vouchers Scheme project last year, we received positive feedback from applicants and telecoms suppliers. Through their applications, businesses have indicated that improving broadband connectivity will be responsible for the creation of at least 300 jobs in the next three years, as well as a potential growth of up to £20 million in the local economy,” Councillor Ó Muilleoir added. 

Michael Jackson of the SOS Group (School and Office Supplies) was one of the pilot customers of the Connection Vouchers and said having superfast broadband was a bonus for his business.

“Having been plagued for years by connection speeds of around 0.5MBps, the vouchers scheme enabled the SOS Group to gain access to high speed broadband at an affordable price through a local supplier.

“As the company has been embarking on a programme to increase its online presence the availability of a quality, stable, internet connection is of paramount importance.  It will also allow us to investigate moving our administration on to a cloud-based system which would have been impossible without this connection.”

DCMS Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “The broadband market is moving at an incredible pace. Today businesses expect and demand faster and faster broadband to compete in the global race. Connection Vouchers will be an important tool for cities in helping to address that demand, and government has now allocated up to £100 million to provide a digital boost to super-connected cities like Belfast.” 

The Belfast Connection Vouchers Scheme is just one strand of the Super-Connected Belfast programme. 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.

Businesses who wish to apply for the Vouchers Scheme can find out more on the council website at www.belfastcity.gov.uk/connectionvouchers

For more information on the council’s support for local business, visit www.belfastcity.gov.uk/business

LM and others