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The Superconnected Cities business broadband Connection Voucher scheme has been rolled out across north-east England, giving small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the region the opportunity to apply for up to £3,000 worth of funding for superfast broadband.
The Connection Voucher scheme, which is administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) using BDUK funds, got off to a slow start but has found its feet since autumn 2014, with a renewed publicity campaign seeing over 12,000 eligible SMEs come forward.
In its Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy – announced at the same time as Chancellor George Osborne’s pre-election budget – the government said it would extend the scheme to a number of cities.
The expansion in north-east England follows the considerable success of the Go Digital Newcastle initiative, a scheme helmed by Newcastle City Council that has helped 430 businesses in both Newcastle and Gateshead apply for the vouchers.
The vouchers will now be available across County Durham, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland and the Tees Valley, comprising Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees.
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To be eligible for the scheme, applicants must be either an SME, a registered charity, a social enterprise or a sole trader; installation of the new connection must cost over £100; the connection must be for a business premises; the applicant must be willing to take a minimum six-month contract with the supplier; the service must deliver a speed or performance improvement; and the applicant must not have received over €200,000 in grants in the past three years.
Successful applicants can choose their own supplier and will have to pay VAT and ongoing costs after the free connection is installed.
Ged Bell, Newcastle Council cabinet member for investment and development, said the scheme would help boost the economy of the entire region.
“Hundreds of businesses in Newcastle have already snapped up Connection Vouchers and are discovering all the advantages superfast broadband can bring – easier, quicker contact with their customers, a more reliable internet service and reduced costs through more efficient working,” he said.
“Landlords of commercial buildings can also put in multiple applications on behalf of their tenants, making their properties much more attractive to businesses,” he added.