The Super Connected Cities scheme got off to a shaky start, its original intention was to ensure islands of ultra fast connectivity existing in a good number of UK cities, but EU State Aid objections killed that idea and the current broadband voucher scheme for small business was the result.
The BBC has highlighted the apparent lack of interest in the Oxford scheme where in the month since the schemes launch there has been just two applications. Portsmouth has seen four applications and Brighton nine.
The DCMS in the BBC item claims the scheme has seen hundreds of applications elsewhere in the country, and we know of one unnamed altnet provider who has had 100 sales via the scheme and appears to be gearing up to handle more. The variability may simply be a factor of how much interaction each city council has with the business community making sure firms are aware of what is available.
The scheme used to require to estimates when applying for a voucher, but this was recently dropped to one to make the application process easier and it is worth pointing out that home workers and sole traders can also apply. The caveat for key workers is that working from home must be for the majority of the time, rather than the occasional day home due to a tube strike. Vouchers can be anything from £200 to £3,000 in value but only cover the installation and connection of the service and requires whatever is purchased to be a step change in speeds, which means a business can actually order a business grade FTTC service as an upgrade from ADSL, if they can find one with a high enough install fee.
We along with many people think that the pricing of Openreach Fibre on Demand was aligned to the value of vouchers available via the scheme, but looking at the various schemes there is a wide range of alternate networks available that are independent of Openreach. There is actually a chance that the voucher scheme might help kick start competition and allow some smaller operators to expand and become a larger force in the cities where they operate, i.e. we may see a subsidy scheme that increases competition.
Most of the cities taking part in the scheme are also planning on rolling out Wi-Fi coverage to public areas and there is a fair bit of competition from operators to get this business and get their hot-spots into street furniture.