Friday, May 18, 2012

UK super-connected cities update

I last reported on the UK initiative to deliver ultrafast broadband to cities in December 2011 (see this previous post), and there have been a number of developments since.

The Autumn 2011 Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (press release here) set out the Government's plans for further investment in broadband infrastructure, alongside new investments in roads and railways. These included the establishment of a new urban broadband fund:
"The Government will invest £100 million to create up to ten ‘super-connected cities’ across the UK, with 80-100 megabits per second broadband and city-wide high-speed mobile connectivity. There will be a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and strategic employment zones to support economic growth. Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and London will all receive support from this fund, and a UK-wide competition will decide up to six further cities that will also receive funding."
Further detail became available on 20 December 2011, with the announcement by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that fourteen UK cities were eligible to become one of the ten super-connected cities. These included the four capitals listed above, the eight core cities (the largest and most economically important English cities outside of London) and the UK cities that have more than 150,000 dwellings: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield. From the related guidance on submitting proposals for funding:
“…a new £100 million Urban Broadband Fund (UBF) that will create up to ten super-connected cities across the UK with 80-100Mbps (megabits per second) broadband connectivity…The first winning cities will be announced at Budget 2012 (21 March 2012). Supporting this initiative, BT and Virgin Media have committed to strengthening their networks in the winning cities. Cities participating in this scheme should aim to maximise the availability of broadband at 80-100Mbps and city-wide high-speed wireless connectivity and will have detailed plans to drive take-up from residents and businesses – all with a particular focus on SMEs and strategic employment zones to support economic growth.”
The initiative is to contribute to the Government's target to have the best superfast broadband in Europe by 2015, so follows the same timescale, but focused on delivering connectivity above 80Mbps rather than above 24Mbps (the Government's definition of superfast broadband). The guidance's glossary defines such 80+Mbps connectivity as "ultrafast broadband"; proposals should address the following:
  • The stimulation of private sector investment, including exploring public sector partnering arrangements with the private sector;
  • Broadband infill where commercial service providers do not deliver and have no plans to do so, building on the investment to be supported from the Government’s £530 million funding for superfast broadband;
  • New broadband networks to deliver ultrafast broadband where the market will not deliver, particularly targeting SMEs;
  • Extending high-speed wireless connectivity, for instance by the provision of public wi-fi. A number of business models are being offered for this and cities should consider which would deliver best value for money for them;
  • Assisting in the creation of new small and medium enterprises with good potential for growth using the enhanced broadband connectivity (for instance, by reducing administrative burdens and other barriers), including community enterprises and third-sector initiatives as well as private sector start-ups.
In common with the funding already made available, funding can only be used for capital projects such as:
  • Funding infill in broadband white areas not expected to be covered by commercial suppliers;
  • Delivering ultra-fast connectivity for businesses, Enterprise Zones and strategic employment zones;
  • Procuring infrastructure to deliver high-speed wireless connectivity.
DCMS announced the ten successful cities on 21st March 2012 as part of the 2012 Budget announcements: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds & Bradford (in a joint proposal), Newcastle and Manchester along with the four UK capital cities. From the full Budget 2012 statement (which also included details of funding for improved mobile connectivity):
“By 2015 this will deliver ultrafast broadband coverage to 1.7 million households and 200,000 businesses in high growth areas as well as high-speed wireless broadband for three million residents. The Government will  also provide an additional £50 million to fund a second wave of ten smaller superconnected cities.”
According to the original guidance document, the first ten super-connected cities have until 1st July 2012 to develop and submit more detailed procurement and delivery plans to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK). Further information on the process for identifying the second wave of ten smaller cities was announced by DCMS on 4th May 2012: To be able to bid for the fund cities must have a Royal Charter and more than 45,000 homes and businesses, or more than 35,000 homes and businesses in Northern Ireland, for more detail see the eligibility criteria which accompanied the announcement.

There are 27 cities eligible for this second wave: Aberdeen, Brighton & Hove, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Coventry, Derby, Dundee, Exeter, Gloucester, Kingston upon Hull, Leicester, Londonderry / Derry, Newport, Norwich, Oxford, Perth, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Preston, Salford, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland, Swansea, Wolverhampton and York. The winning cities will be announced in the Autumn Statement later this year and cities unsuccessful in the first round will not be eligible to apply for this second fund.

Funding for the second wave is only available for the financial year 2013/14 and so all projects must draw down and complete delivery within that year. Commentary from the BBC here and ISP Review here; detailed bidding guidance for the second wave was to be available on the DCMS web site by 18th May 2012 (today) but as far as I can see it isn't available yet; presumably this guidance will not differ hugely from that published in support of the first wave.

It will be interesting to see how this latest UK initiative supports the ambitions set out in this speech made by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, the day before the latest DCMS announcement.

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