In March 2012 the Chancellor announced that 10 cities had been successful in their bids to be part of the Government’s super-connected cities programme, to bring faster and better broadband and high-speed wireless coverage to more people in our cities by 2015. In his autumn statement of 2012, the Chancellor announced a further 12 cities onto the programme. I would like to update the House on developments with the programme.
Following extensive work with the suppliers, cities and European Commission, the programme has been shaped around three main work streams:
a significant and sustainable upgrade in capability of high-speed/high-grade connections to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) through a connection voucher scheme;
increased coverage of wireless connectivity in city centres, and provide a network of wi-fi hotspots in public buildings, such as museums and libraries in cities across the country; and
innovative connectivity projects that will increase broadband capability and support a more robust, resilient and sustainable broadband infrastructure.
The 22 super-connected cities have made good progress in developing their project plans, and they are moving quickly into the project implementation phase. An important strand of this programme is the connection voucher scheme for SMEs which was opened to all 22 cities on 7 December. The market tests in five cities over the summer have shown that suppliers and SMEs want to participate in the scheme, with over 60 suppliers registered for the market tests and an increasing number now registering for the full scheme.
I now look forward to rolling out the connection voucher scheme across all 22 cities over the coming weeks and bringing the benefits of faster and better broadband to as many SMEs as possible by 2015. This scheme is breaking new ground in the telecommunications sector. My officials will continue to work closely with all the cities as they roll out this scheme and monitor their progress, with a view to extending its benefits as widely as possible.
Alongside this, we have already seen some good progress on bringing wireless services into our city centres. For example, residents and visitors to Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Bradford, Cardiff, London and Manchester can access wireless services in city centres which have been provided by commercial suppliers and are free for a limited period at the point of delivery. The wider roll out of 4G mobile and our measures to remove the barriers holding up deployment should support this further.
I want to acknowledge the considerable work that the super-connected cities have done over the course of the last year. I expect the pace of progress to increase as we move into 2014, and I will provide an update to the House in due course on the programme.