By Steve McCaskill
Virgin Media has become the latest ISP to waive the installation fee for SMBs wanting superfast broadband following the end of the government's super connected cities scheme.
The scheme, which provided grants of up to £3,000 to SMBs in a number of cities, closed earlier this month after all the funding was exhausted.
More than 40,000 businesses have signed up for the initiative, which initially struggled to attract applicants, before a marketing push and expansion to more cities increased popularity. An additional £40 million was pumped into the project late last year.
Virgin Media Offer
Applications were to be accepted until March 2016 or until the funds had been exhausted—a scenario which has now occurred. It is unclear whether more funds will be allocated to continue the scheme to its conclusion.
Virgin Media has called for the government to allocate more funding but until then, the firm will cover the costs of installation up to £1,000—enough, it says, to cover 86 percent of all such orders. Businesses have until at least the end of the year to apply and the offer will cover the same cities as the government's initiative.
"We've connected thousands of small businesses with the support of the Super Connected Cities voucher scheme which was a huge success to help businesses get online," said Mike Smith, director of small business at Virgin Media Business. "Given the extraordinary take-up among businesses and healthy competition between hundreds of connectivity suppliers, we strongly encourage the government to reintroduce the scheme.
"In the meantime, we're pleased to launch this exclusive trial for the UK's small businesses to help them get online and thrive with the fastest available broadband. We know one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses is upfront costs, including for the likes of broadband."
Super Connected Cities
CityFibre, which was also a participant in the super connected cities voucher program, is also waiving installation fees of up to £2,500 in a number of cities where it operate 1Gbps fiber to the premise (FFTP) networks.
The super connected cities vision was originally intended to provide the winning cities with funds to build superfast broadband and public WiFi networks. However, following legal challenges from ISPs, this was watered down to a voucher scheme, although the WiFi aspect has remained unaffected, with BT and Virgin Media building wireless infrastructure for city councils.
Under EU regulations, the government is forbidden from intervening in urban areas, so the existing Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme aiding local authorities is limited to rural areas.
Funds were not ring-fenced for individual cities and, as of Aug. 25, the most vouchers had been handed out in London, with 11,664 SMBs in the capital taking advantage.