The City of London Corporation has announced plans to go it alone with superfast broadband delivery after declaring that “Big Telecom” has failed to deliver for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and residents of the Square Mile.
Guildhall representatives said BT and other large telcos had been seen to “ignore the needs of smaller firms and residents” who were unable to justify the £500 a month fees required for what it termed “a dedicated first-class connection”.
City of London Corporation policy chair, Mark Boleat, said residents and SMEs were sick of being ignored.
“The 13,500 SMEs in the Square Mile employ many people, are vital energisers of the business environment, and need superfast broadband at the right price to bring growth and jobs not just to the City, but also to neighbouring areas.
“This work could have been done by major suppliers themselves, but their business with bigger firms is too easy for them and they are just ignoring the SMEs and residents. We will provide the infrastructure to help new suppliers come into the market,” said Boleat.
More on tech in London
The first phase of the corporation’s project will be to map the availability of fibre demand down to each building in the Square Mile, and then use the data as leverage to nudge suppliers to start work on providing more affordable connections.
The second stage will see the corporation embark on an upgrade to wireless voice and data services using its own street furniture and buildings as sites for access points and masts.
Computer Weekly blogger and market watcher Phil Virgo wrote that the corporation’s declaration could “help blow apart cosy debate over what we do, or do not, need and help enable market forces to compensate for regulatory failure”.
To date, BT’s position on fibre for SMEs in central London has been to state that there are no plans, at present, to offer cheaper business products.
With regard to complaints about quality of broadband available to startups and tech SMEs in Tech City, which lies cheek by jowl with the City of London around Old Street and Shoreditch, BT Openreach CEO Joe Garner said he acknowledged many small businesses were buying consumer-grade products.
“This is primarily an issue of price,” he told Computer Weekly. “I do understand that a startup would rather pay £25 rather than £250, but I would ask, isn’t your internet access worth that?”
Separately, the corporation said it would be supporting the government’s broadband Connection Voucher scheme, which provides grants of up to £3,000 to install business broadband services in 22 SuperConnected Cities.
Just four months now remain for businesses to claim their grants before the scheme comes to an end in March 2015.