The European Regional Development Fund has allocated £5 million to the East of England in order to help the extension of fast broadband, especially in rural areas. This money is supplementary to that £50 million on offer from Broadband UK (BDUK) and to the commercial investment. Bids for the package have to be in soon from all county and unitary authorities. Business cases will then have to be developed, with roll-out anticipated from April 2012 onwards.
Small businesses from all backgrounds stand to benefit. The project will assist the economic recovery of the region, and reduce our carbon footprint.
The ERDF funding will in some cases help to do “the final mile”, linking up the backbone of superfast broadband to nearby business sites. However, a big part of the funding will take the form of business support, helping SMEs exploit the new infrastructure to the full. High speed broadband is an enabler, but does not do the business itself.
Andrew Duff, Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England said ‘Regional applications have been slow in coming forward and in some cases insufficiently focussed on adding business value to local businesses. A number of the draft proposals have not been meeting the desirable quality of partnership between local government and other players, such as universities.
Mr Duff added ‘the continuing existence of dial-up modems rather defies the image of the East of England as a pathfinder in the field of science and technology. Broadband is the infrastructure of the future and if we are to be competitive with other regions in the EU, we need to get this job done now.’
‘I fully appreciate how difficult it is for local government in the present circumstances to find the match funding to contribute to the development of fast broadband but it is difficult for me to make the case in Whitehall and Brussels that the East of England is still in need of EU structural funds if we cannot exploit what is on offer today with skill and imagination.’