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Virgin Media calls on Chancellor to re-direct Super Connected funding
Tuesday 19 March 2013 10:45:49 by Andrew Ferguson

Virgin Media has written to the Chancellor George Osborne ahead of the budget to call on him to re-purpose the money allocated to the 15 cities that is meant to deliver ubiquitous wireless broadband coverage and provide ultra fast connectivity. The purpose being that Virgin Media believes that a good proportion of the money would be better invested in improving the digital skills of small businesses.

Dear Chancellor

As the Government prepares for the 2013 Budget, Virgin Media sees a huge opportunity for you to boost efforts to drive economic growth through the expansion of digital skills across UK businesses.

As you are acutely aware, driving growth amongst SMEs is critical to the future success of the UK economy, and increasing uptake of digital technologies amongst those businesses is central to that goal. The economic value to be derived from a more digitally mature UK small business sector is estimated at £18.8 billion [1] and 58,000 extra jobs by 2017[2], with the most digitally mature three times more likely to have seen growth than those who operate entirely offline.

Yet the potential benefits offered by digital technologies are not currently being realised by UK businesses. Only two-thirds have a website and a third sell goods and services online. Both the Government’s own ‘Digital Champion’ and e-skills delivery body identify the central barrier to small businesses realising those benefits as a lack of practical, digital skills and shortage of resources to undertake digital training.

Seizing this opportunity to drive the UK’s economic recovery will therefore require action from Government to support small businesses to better understand and utilise the benefits of digital. Specifically, this means:

  • Ensuring a minimum of 50% of the £150m Urban Broadband Fund is allocated to Government efforts to boost the training and digital capability of SMEs, including through existing programmes such as Web-Fuelled Businesses.
  • Enhancing the role of the Minister for Broadband by giving the post an explicit remit to promote economic growth, and oversee cross-departmental work on digital capability as recommended by Policy Exchange.

These are measures that will strengthen the UK’s economic capabilities and can be taken without further expenditure. As you prepare your Budget, we therefore urge you to seize the opportunity to provide a much needed boost to the UK economy and the growth prospects of SMEs across the nation.

Yours sincerely,
Neil Berkett, CEO, Virgin Media
Copy of letter to Chancellor ahead of Budget

It is very easy when immersed in the tech industry on a day to day basis to forget how complicated things can seem to those whose core business is not centered around the Internet. Digital Skills does not neccessarily mean that every business will end up with someone trained to write their company website, but to at least have the knowledge to understand the benefits an online presence can bring and also the pitfalls and how to interact with customers online.

The Government response to this letter may well be that the projects will cover some of this, but there is something perverse about spending money on digital skills in just 15 cities, when the reality is that broadband and the improvements from the BDUK projects and the numerous independent projects mean that an office in a converted cow shed can just as easily do business online as one in a swanky nice building in East London given a reasonable broadband connection.

We are also not sure that the Urban fund will deliver what the Government thinks it will, ultra fast connections are available in all the 15 cities already, admittedly the price may not be too SME friendly at this time, but by balancing the price of office space versus connectivity something reasonable can often be found (e.g. fast FTTC or FTTP via Openreach, or a cable connection from Virgin Media business arm or one of the other smaller providers).

If the Urban broadband fund continues along the path it is following, we are expecting that the Openreach fibre on demand product will be a big beneficiary, with vouchers available as part of the funding, not unlike the Broadband Support Scheme in Wales. There is a real risk if it is just a voucher type scheme that it will be as popular as the £5,000 electric car grant, where those benefiting tend to be the ones who could probably have afforded the electric car already rather than kick start a surge in the digital economy.


Posted by ValueforMoney over 4 years ago
Suggested reply from Minister

Thanks for cutting and pasting our own research and repeating it back to us. I think I used these same stats in a speech last week.

Thanks for Docsis 3 upgrades but is there any chance you could seperate your network out and sell it to someone willing to extend it and partake in a national infrastructure sharing agreement.
These EU and Asians types now replacing PSTN with Fibre for nearly the same rental. Ofcom still talking about business connectivity whatever that is.

Love from M&E.
Posted by cyberdoyle over 4 years ago
If everyone had a connection that was fit for purpose they would use it. We won't get digital cities or digital anything until the infrastructure works everywhere. Even in cities there are notspots where the telcos don't go. Cabinets don't get enabled where there are lots of businesses because they would rather those stayed on leased lines.
Posted by LT38 over 4 years ago
i think they should be asking for the moneyy to improve there own god damn piss poor network so we get what we pay for not asking for it to be used for small business digital skills programs
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
Is this a VM "give less money to competitors" plea ?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago

VM is keen on the WiFi coverage money, but there are signs that that could happen without the funding.
Posted by CaptainW over 4 years ago
I've had my exchange put back quarter over quarter and now, exchange in June. Problem is, my cabinet can't be done because apparently 'it's not openrech's policy to telephone lines,' I query further and am told that it's the local council who won't allow the DSLAM to be installed on another path.

Today, my local councillor says "rubbish" ...

Who do I believe? Has anyone else had similar problems?
Posted by CaptainW over 4 years ago
* should read "it's not Openreach's policy to move telephone lines"
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
Does the local council keep records of planning applications on line?

For cabinets in conservation areas you should probably find something.

There are rules on pavement widths etc, and it may be that the Openreach planners could not find a near enough cost effective location.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
Cabinets that were installed decades ago before various changes are left in situ but adding new hardware becomes problematic.
Posted by bosie over 4 years ago
Has anyone looked at the coverage for central London (zone 1)? ADSL is still the only option in most areas.
Posted by bosie over 4 years ago
After posting that I noticed Covent Garden is suddenly showing "Accepting Orders" (FTTC has been coming soon since March 2012). I called BT all excited but my street cabinet hasn't been upgraded. Sigh... was almost there.
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