To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment he has made of the potential merits on introducing a dedicated Business Broadband Voucher Scheme to help SMEs (a) improve their broadband connections and (b) adapt to the digital economy.
16 July 2020
The department already operates a voucher scheme to Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme. Funding of up to £3,500 is available to SMEs, and up to £1,500 for residents. This is available for businesses as large as 249 employees and a turnover of up to €50m per annum, and as small as sole traders. £71 million of funding is available for residents and businesses in this financial year.
Local Authority ‘top-up’ funding is also available in Kent, West Sussex, Borderlands and Wales which increases the amount available. For example in Wales the SME voucher is worth up to £7,000. To date, the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme has issued over 10,000 vouchers to SMEs and residents, of which over 2,500 have already resulted in a live connection.
The department previously offered the UK wide Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which closed in May 2020 and was available to both urban and rural premises. This Scheme offered up to £1,500 for SMEs and up to £500 for residents, with ‘top-up’ funding available in Kent and Wales. To date nearly 25,000 connections have been made through this Scheme, with a further 8,000 vouchers issued that will be connected over the coming 12 months. The total value of vouchers for businesses through this Scheme was £64 million.
With billions of pounds of commercial investment announced for urban fibre build, there is now a high risk of “deadweight” from urban vouchers which is why the department is now focusing on developing gigabit-capable connectivity in rural areas.