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The government has suspended its superfast broadband Connection Voucher scheme for small businesses six months early after exhausting the available funding pot.
In a brief notice on the Connection Vouchers website, the government said the funds available to the scheme were “close to being fully committed” and so it suspended the programme. “While the scheme is suspended, cities will not accept applications,” said the notice.
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed the money was close to exhaustion.
“The broadband Connection Voucher scheme has been open to SMEs [small to medium-sized enterprises] in 50 cities and we are delighted that tens of thousands of businesses have received a voucher, giving them access to an affordable superfast broadband connection. We have now suspended the scheme pending confirmation that the remaining funds have been allocated,” he said.
As of September 2015, more than 40,000 businesses around the UK had taken advantage of the broadband grants, which are worth up to £3,000 a time.
However, it has always been the case that the programme’s funding – which was boosted by £40m in late 2014 after initial take-up levels disappointed – was not ring-fenced, and no further cash was to be made available once exhausted.
The programme was open on a first come, first served basis to companies with fewer than 250 employees and making under £42.4m per annum. At its height, 1,000 vouchers a week were being handed out.
In a nod to the latter success of the scheme, DCMS recently revealed that it was exploring a similar system to help consumers in some of the remotest parts of the UK cover the hefty upfront costs of installing satellite broadband equipment in their homes.
However, despite its popularity with urban SMEs, some have argued that the scheme never went far enough.
Among its critics were Darren Shenkin, business development director at fibre broadband specialist Hyperoptic, who earlier in 2015 said that the scheme was addressing merely the tip of the iceberg when it came to digitally excluded SMEs.
“Removing upfront broadband installation costs could benefit so many more SMEs all across the UK. DCMS needs to put more money into the pot to extend the scheme and stimulate the digital economy,” he said.