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The government’s broadband connection voucher scheme has been extended across West Sussex, allowing business owners based in the county to apply for a grant of up to £3,000 towards the cost of upgrading to superfast broadband.
Administered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, the government recently revealed that the connection voucher scheme had so far distributed more than 25,000 vouchers to companies in 50 cities across the UK.
Following the extension of the scheme into rural parts of north-east England in May 2015, West Sussex Council has now followed suit after striking a deal with Brighton and Hove City Council, which has been offering the vouchers to Brighton and Hove-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for some time.
The vouchers will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis for the remaining lifetime of the scheme, which is currently set to run until the end of March 2016. Eligible businesses will be able to spend the grants on fixed fibre or wireless systems.
To qualify for vouchers, businesses must be an SME, registered charity, social enterprise or sole trader employing fewer than 250 people and making no more than £42.4m per annum. Installation of the connection must cost more than £100 and it must be capable of a speed of performance improvement. Applicants, who are free to choose their own supplier, must also commit to a minimum contract of six months.
West Sussex Council cabinet member with responsibility for broadband, David Barling, commented: “West Sussex has many small enterprises and businesses run from home, particularly in the more rural areas, and we want to support these businesses be able to compete in an increasingly global economy.
“The connection vouchers scheme supports our own publicly funded roll-out of broadband infrastructure and will provide financial help to those businesses that need access to superfast broadband immediately,” he said.
Peter Raynsford, director of local internet service provider 5 Rings Telecom, which is based near Worthing, said: "The financial benefits of the scheme are substantial and we’ve worked closely with Brighton and Hove City Council to design a very simple ordering process for customers.
“In terms of the business benefits, we’re encouraging customers to view these new fibre services as business enablers. Yes, you get faster internet speeds but we’re also delivering key services such as cloud-based telephony over fibre. This opens up a huge range of benefits and efficiencies for businesses that they may not have previously considered.”
Sussex commits to BT for BDUK extension
Seperately, West Sussex Council has signed a contract extension with BT to extend the county’s BDUK roll-out into 2017, connecting around 3,000 further premises by the end of 2017, when the government hopes to have passed 95% of properties in the country with superfast broadband.
This comes shortly after it emerged that Devon and Somerset Councils had rejected a second stage BDUK bid from BT, saying it did not present value for money. That contract will be put back out to tender.