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Westminster Council to run broadband connection voucher scheme

Westminster City Council has secured £2.8m to fund a local broadband connection voucher scheme to deliver gigabit speeds to businesses in the London borough

Westminster City Council has secured funding of £2.8m, including £1.4m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), to set up a local broadband connection voucher scheme offering SMEs ultrafast connections.

Dubbed Connect Westminster, the new scheme will offer small and medium enterprises (SMEs) up to £2,000 to fund ultrafast-capable broadband connection to well over 1,000 companies. The connections will have to be capable of delivering at least 30Mbps from day one, under the condition they can be upgraded in the future. Businesses will be able to pool their vouchers to improve service into multiple-occupancy offices if desired.

“Westminster is a national global centre of employment and industry, containing more businesses and employees than any other London borough,” said Robert Davis, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for business, culture and heritage.

“With 47,165 businesses and 697,400 jobs and with an expected 14% projected employee growth between 2016 and 2041, which illustrates the significance of Westminster’s contribution to London’s economy and our need for ultrafast broadband, so we can continue to be the best place in the UK to start and grow a business,” said Davis.

“We are committed to increasing the provision of cost-effective ultrafast broadband by working with Broadband providers to improve connectivity, as part of our ‘City for All’ priority,” said Jonathan Glanz, lead member for the shared economy at Westminster City Council.

“This, in turn, will enable SMEs businesses in Westminster to grow, increase productivity and access new markets which are of fundamental importance to London’s position as a leading global city.”

The Connect Westminster project echoes a previous connection voucher scheme that was run nationally by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This scheme, which was shuttered in the autumn of 2015 after exhausting the available funding, was declared a massive success and as of summer 2016, was thought to have added over £1.7bn to the UK’s economy.

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Computer Weekly understands that Westminster Council staff drew on DCMS’ learnings from the national scheme, and consulted with government staffers when drawing up its own plans.

Westminster’s scheme is already open to sign-ups from ISPs and will remain so until 24 July 2017. Among the businesses that have already signed on is Luminet, which operates almost exclusively within a 400 square kilometre area of central London.

Focused on the London market

“We are totally focused on the London market and pride ourselves on being a local company delivering connectivity to local businesses,” said CEO Sasha Williamson. “For the last 10 years, we have serviced thousands of companies across London with our wireless and fixed business broadband connectivity.

“We are the most customer-centric broadband supplier in the UK, which is evidenced by or leading NPS score of 42 – the top score in the telco segment in the UK,” she said. “We are also uniquely placed to deliver against the 28-day term – since our launch of our Fibre Air product last year 100% of our installs have been completed within 12.5 days.”

Despite London consistently being ranked as one of the most digitally advanced cities in the world, broadband connectivity in some central parts of the city still lags behind many other areas of the UK, with businesses reporting difficulties in accessing cloud applications, using voice over IP (VoIP) systems, sending and receiving large files and so on.

In June 2017, a report from the London Assembly’s Regeneration Committee said that a lack of adequate connectivity was endangering London’s economy. It said the capital was blighted by “not spots”, “digital deserts” and “a lack of fibre”, and called on mayor Sadiq Khan’s soon-to-be-appointed chief digital officer to make addressing this problem a priority.

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