Procurement · 13 August 2015

Details on business eligibility for the government’s Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme

Rural communities are starting to be better served
Rural communities are starting to be better served

In an effort to create a more joined-up economy, and plug micro and small businesses into a faster broadband internet connection to fasciate growth and innovation, Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme are currently being delivered by 50 cities in the UK.

Available on a first come first serve basis until 31 March 2016, the initiative is backed up by £40m worth of government funding and managed by Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – which is itself a unit with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The grants available, of up to £3,000, cover the capital and equipment costs of upgrading a broadband connection to a superfast one.

Faster broadband allows small, growing businesses to improve customer experience, enhance communication and collaboration experiences and future-proof the company to meet customers’ needs.

However, to be eligible for this government grant, certain boxes must first be ticked. Number one is that your business must reside within an eligible area – one for the 50 cities taking part in the scheme. The government has provided a quick postcode checker to see if it is viable for your firm.

Next up, you must be an SME, registered charity, social enterprise or sole trader to be eligible. Broadband connection installation must be over £100 and has to be for use on business premises, unless you use your home as an office full time.

You must be willing to sign up to a minimum six-month contract with a broadband supplier and have not received more than €200,000 in grants during the last three years.

On the numbers side, your business must employ fewer than 250 people, have a turnover of less than €50m (or balance sheet of less than €43) and not have a parent company that does not meet eligibility. Finally, you must not operate in a sector which is excluded from the scheme.

During a speech by digital economy minister Ed Vaizey in June 2015, when he outlined the government’s digital priorities for this parliament, he said: “A key element of a thriving digital economy is the digital broadband and mobile services. These services are vital for the economy and social cohesion, and we need a digital communications infrastructure that meets the needs of users, including ubiquitous availability, reliability, speed, affordability and resilience.

“We have made good progress on improving fixed broadband and mobile infrastructure. Superfast broadband is currently available to over 80 per cent of homes and businesses in the UK and we will have achieved 95 per cent by 2017. We have also issued over 25,000 broadband vouchers to SMEs in cities across the UK, so they can reap the benefits of connection to better quality, high-speed broadband.”

In February, it was announced that Virgin Media would be injecting £3bn into internet infrastructure in what was described as the single largest investment in the space for more than a decade.

The £3bn is predicted to create £8bn of value to the UK economy and consumers and bring about 6,000 new jobs and apprentices over the next five years. Once finished, “Project Lighting” will connect some four million additional homes and businesses with internet speeds of 152Mb – taking the number Virgin Media is catering for to 17m.

A quick and reliable internet connection can be a big asset to a business. So, if you comply, the government’s Broadband Connection Voucher Scheme could be a great way to achieve that for free.

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Hunter Ruthven was previously editor of Business Advice. He was also the editor of Real Business, the UK's most-read website for entrepreneurs and business leaders at the helm of growing SMEs.

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