The government’s flawed broadband voucher scheme is being completely revamped after it was revealed that less than 10 per cent of the pot of £100m has been used by small and medium sized businesses [SMBs].
Among the changes that have been made to the scheme are a completely revamped website to make it easier for companies to apply for the scheme as well as an application process that has been streamlined.
It had originally been hoped that 200,000 SMBs with 250 employees or less would take part in the scheme and the current uptake has seen just £7.5 million of funding claimed by a miniscule 3,000 small business with a deadline of March 2015 for all the money to be spent.
From the business side of the table any company that qualifies now doesn’t need to fill in a detailed application form and can instead call a pre-approved provider of which there is a list on the website. In addition, any business that has a supplier in mind only needs to fill in a quick form to get the quote approved.
Suppliers, meanwhile, can now apply to Broadband Delivery UK [BDUK] with a list of connection costs that removes the need for businesses to apply to take part in the scheme and when a package is approved it can be immediately offered to businesses with no forms to fill in.
"This is a golden opportunity for businesses to take advantage of better broadband. The grant takes away the costs of installation, which are normally charged up front or added to monthly charges," said Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, told the BBC.
It is all part of a wider plan to get ultra-fast broadband to SMBs across the UK and involves creating a network of super-connected cities. BDUK launched the scheme back in 2012 and the plan was that over 20 cities would receive connectivity defined as ultra-fast, which is a minimum of 80Mbps.
"The scheme has not proved as successful as government had hoped. The problem is that the government can't be seen to aggregate demand as that will fall foul of European state aid rules,” said Malcolm Corbett, head of the Independent Networks Co-operative Association [Inca], after being asked why the scheme is failing.