Edinburgh broadband boost as £10m scheme unveiled

Museums and other public buildings in the city are set to have wi-fi. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Museums and other public buildings in the city are set to have wi-fi. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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EDIBURGH CITY chiefs are working to boost broadband in the Capital despite a UK Government bungle over funding rules.

Revised plans for more than £10 million of investment would see wi-fi coverage on trams, buses and council buildings like museums, galleries and libraries; help for small businesses to get broadband connections; and access to a new festivals archive.

Plans to roll out superfast broadband to 90 per cent of the city’s residents and businesses had to be scrapped after the scheme drawn up by the

Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) fell foul of European Union competition rules. But under an alternative funding bid, the city council hopes to press ahead with targeted major broadband improvements. The council was originally awarded £10.7m under the Urban Broadband Fund as part of the UK Government’s Super-Connected Cities initiative. Most of the money – £9.7m – was earmarked for fixed fibre-based broadband

infrastructure for areas of the city not covered by commercial roll-out plans. The other £1m was to be used to give small businesses vouchers which they could use to help pay for broadband connections. But EU rules say state aid cannot be used to provide infrastructure in urban areas where it is deemed that commercial roll-out would be

viable.

So despite being two years in the planning, the scheme had to be abandoned at the 11th hour and the council was given just three weeks to come up with an alternative package.

The council’s revised plan proposes £2.7m for wi-fi in public transport and council buildings; an increased fund of £3m for vouchers for small businesses; another £4m to support start-up businesses in key sectors such as the creative industries; and £1m for an online archive of programmes and reviews from previous festivals.

City finance convener Alasdair Rankin said despite the frustration over the collapse of the earlier plans, the council was keen to get the maximum benefit for the city.

He said: “We have submitted a proposal that takes account of the state aid objections. We hope to get the full £10.7m and we intend to spend it in a way that achieves the maximum benefit to Edinburgh’s economy, its residents and visitors. Beyond that, we are looking to see what we can do for businesses.

“We have already invested £350,000 of our own money and we had looked at contributing £1m, but we’re not going to commit any more until we a cast-iron assurance from the DCMS that we can go ahead with the revised programme.”

A DCMS spokesman said: “The people of Edinburgh are going to benefit hugely from public investment in broadband and high speed connectivity. Revisions to state aid guidelines meant that some of the projects may have been subjected to lengthy delays, so we asked cities to resubmit plans focusing on supporting SME growth and projects which we could start work on straight away. DCMS Ministers are currently considering the cities’ revised plans and we will be confirming their revised allocations shortly.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com