UK cities expected to go it alone for better broadband

The full list of cities which will be eligible to bid for ‘super-connected’ broadband funding has been announced, though experts believe the cash could make little difference to many UK cities.

Following an announcement that the four capital cities in the UK will be awarded part of a £100 million high speed broadband fund, a further list of cities has revealed who will scrap it out for broadband cash.

Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield have all been given the green light to put a bid in to grab the remaining funds and become part of the ‘super-connected’ project.

As part of a drive to kickstart the flailing UK economy, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is now taking bids from cities which can plead the best case for getting the funds.   This will involve explaining how they will use the 80-100 Mbps speeds to push growth.  The internet will be supplied by BT and Virgin.

The competition means that some will lose out on the cash, but it does seem to make it easier to allocate the funding more prudently.  Industry experts believe that question marks remain over the ability to make a difference to ten cities considering the amount on the table.

 “When the original announcement was made, we did wonder how the scheme would work,” said Andrew Ferguson at thinkbroadband.com.   “By limiting it to four pre-selected capital cities, and six out of the ten cities only going to win, then we do at least have an idea of how far the fund will have to spread.”

He points out that many cities are already approaching existing targets for 2015, such as Cardiff, though it could be that such steps were made prior to any knowledge of further funding.

“Most cities were working towards improving broadband,” Ferguson told TechEye, “though it is unclear whether some of these projects were going ahead with the prior information that some government funding may be available.”

Ferguson thinks the amount on offer is scant compared to the scale of the task in upgrading broadband systems. On its own, it’s not enough, he thinks. “But with careful targeting to the worst served areas of each city, it will make a difference.”

Nor will it create a super connected city, like the visions inspired by South Korea and Japan. “The best we can expect,” Ferguson says, “is that it will ensure that inside the ten cities broadband at speeds well above the 2 Mbps USC will be available everywhere.”

He believes that with scant funding available to support broadband, with other infrastructure sectors such as rail and roads gaining priority, cities may well be better off going it alone.

“One key aspect is that the cities are expected to raise their own funds, and as such there is nothing stopping any city in the UK going it alone, and ignoring this fund,” Ferguson says. “In terms of speed of roll-out of the actual improvements this may be a better approach, and the Superfast Cornwall project is a prime example – they started well before the BDUK scheme was underway.”