By Mark Jackson, ISPreview UK | July 4th, 2014
The government’s plans for Shoreditch’s Tech City have been criticised by Labour MP Meg Hillier after it was claimed that around a third of local businesses, not to mention many homes, are still without access to high-speed broadband, while the £3,000 Connection Voucher (“Super-Connected Cities“) scheme that was setup to help has been branded as a “national embarrassment“.
The Connection Voucher scheme offers grants worth up to £3,000 +vat in order to help individual premises (small or medium sized businesses) get connected to a 30Mbps+ capable superfast broadband service. The vouchers were originally setup after the broadband infrastructure side of the Government’s £150m Urban Broadband Fund ran into the possibility of a significant delay due to competition concerns expressed by the European Commission (here and here).
One of the issues the EC had was with making the argument for the use of state aid in dense urban areas where the case for investment by the Private Sector should be much easier to make (i.e. less need for public funds). Never the less many urban areas, including parts of major cities, continue to suffer due to the lack of access to superfast broadband from operators like BT and Virgin Media etc.
Labour MP Meg Hillier told Parliament (Islington Gazette):
“I’ve had letters from constituents who work from home and they need access to high-speed internet. This is a joke, frankly. You can’t just throw money at a problem, it’s the infrastructure that needs changing. BT have done very well out of the public purse.
They’ve had breakfast with Boris, tea at No. 10 and dancing with the Business Secretary, but small businesses in Shoreditch still cannot get super-fast broadband.”
A quick look at a big part of Shoreditch, which connects to the local telephone exchange at Bishopsgate, reveals that coverage of BT’s FTTC and Virgin Media’s cable platform is extremely patchy. Likewise the layout of the area suggests that the only way for some companies to get a better connection might be if they aggregated their connection vouchers to cover the cost of a more significant infrastructure upgrade. Otherwise the only choice is perhaps an expensive leased line.
On the other hand it’s important to stress that BT and Virgin Media aren’t the only games in town, with Urban WiMaxs fixed wireless network reaching into the area and rival fibre optic providers, such as Hyperoptic, being ready and willing to engage with serious interest. ISPreview.co.uk has contacted BT in the hope of getting their response to the areas plight and we’ll report back if and when that arrives.
BT has kindly furnished us with a statement, which points to a few inaccuracies in the Islington Gazette’s original piece.
A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:
“Businesses in the Tech City area are extremely well served by high speed services, with all businesses able to access speeds of up to 10Gbps via BT’s Ethernet network and more than two thirds of all premises in the area able to access our open wholesale fibre network.
Fibre availability will rise to more than three quarters of premises over the coming months, whilst the area may benefit from further fibre expansion as a result of our additional £50m investment in cities.
It’s important to note that the Tech City area itself is not officially defined, whilst total fibre coverage across all networks will be even greater given the presence of other operators in the area.
We are also participating in the Government’s Connection Voucher Scheme which provides financial assistance to qualifying small businesses that want to take advantage of fibre broadband or high speed business services.
As for Hackney, more than three quarters of all premises in the area already have access to fibre, with even more set to benefit over the coming months, so the suggestion that ‘vast swathes’ of the borough are excluded is simply not true.”
BT were also keen to remind that it can be difficult to achieve 100% FTTC/P coverage commercially in any part of the country, including in certain parts of major cities – e.g. difficulties relating to siting of cabinets; planning issues; the need for streetworks; power issues. All of these factors can affect the commercial case for deploying fibre in such areas.