There’s a black hole at the heart of the City: Lack of superfast broadband

 
Mark Boleat
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In the twenty-first century, superfast broadband is something we take for granted, like clean water and bright lights. But despite being in the world’s most popular business location, many of the City’s SMEs are still receiving the internet equivalent of rusty, murky water. While our larger businesses are well-served by fibre optic broadband, SMEs and residents lose out, with a recent report revealing average speeds of 11.9 megabits per second (Mbps) in the City, compared to the London average of 20.5 Mbps.
This is a huge drag on productivity and on London’s ability to compete in the global race. How can we call ourselves open to business when business can’t be open to new, cloud-based technologies? We are committed to helping businesses thrive, including the 13,500 SMEs who locate in the Square Mile and in nearby Tech City, and the many charities who also lack the resources to run their organisations in the most efficient way.
So what can be done to help? In the Square Mile, we’re mapping the availability of high-speed connections to help providers know which areas to target with new infrastructure. We’re also helping SMEs access the infrastructure that already exists through the government’s Connections Voucher scheme, which mitigates the prohibitive cost of access.
Since the Corporation began working to boost awareness of these vouchers, applications from City SMEs have rocketed to put us in the top five boroughs. Many providers in the scheme also offer faster broadband at affordable prices.
But the voucher scheme is not perfect – it’s bureaucratic to apply for, and many SMEs are tied into broadband contracts and can’t apply until close to the March 2015 deadline. The recent surge in applications shows the demand is there; extending the scheme will give more small businesses the opportunity to access the high-speed broadband they’ll need to meet their potential.
We also can’t tackle this problem alone – we need buy-in from the industry, landlords and London politicians. Engagement with industry has proven difficult, but BT Openreach has now agreed to “pilot” new technologies in two of our premises – a housing estate and an SME building. This will highlight the business opportunities which can be gained by committing to better infrastructure across the City, not just in the buildings of big firms.
The buy-in from London politicians has been more successful. Local MP Meg Hillier attended the Business Broadband breakfast we hosted last Wednesday and City MP Mark Field has voiced his support for our commitment to improving access to broadband across London, as befits our global city.
Our campaign has raised the profile of the scheme and I am pleased with the strong progress we have made so far, but we can and must do more. An attendee at our Broadband Breakfast had paid to have superfast broadband extended to his small firm because he had no knowledge of the voucher system: there is still work to be done. I urge all small firms to get involved in the campaign, to meet their own potential and help London meet its.
Tell us about your connection at www.surveymonkey.com/s/smesbb and apply for a Connections Voucher at www.connectionvouchers.co.uk/city/london

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