Birmingham secures Smart City broadband future

Birmingham City Council has been given the green-light from Europe to invest £10million to bring ultrafast broadband to the city as part of its Smart City programme – leading to better connectivity, falling charges and faster internet speeds.

Businesses in Digbeth, Eastside and the Jewellery Quarter, at the heart of the city’s new Enterprise Zone will be the first to benefit from the announcement, the culmination of detailed negotiations co-ordinated by the council-led Digital Birmingham partnership.

A State Aid decision from the EC was needed following an announcement by the UK Government in March, which saw Birmingham secure £10million from its Urban Broadband Fund, designed to create ‘Super Connected Cities’.

This was because Birmingham’s ambitious proposals will see the council intervene in the existing telecommunications market place to team up with a delivery partner to provide the ultrafast broadband that will help thousands of local businesses to benefit. Without the ruling it would not have been possible for the city to use the funds.

Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This will put Birmingham at the forefront of the race to deliver public services in new and innovative ‘Smart’ ways.

“It will undoubtedly help the city’s future prosperity. I welcome the support of the European Commission in driving this forward, and the historic decision that has been reached.”

Historically, Birmingham businesses – particularly small and medium enterprises – have been unable to afford a dedicated ultrafast broadband connection, but the ruling and the work which will now be carried out will ultimately enable them to, at speeds in excess of 100mbps delivered by a ‘future proof’ fibre optic based network with the potential for multi gigabit speeds.

Lucan Gray, the inspiration and the owner of Fazeley Studios and Custard Factory, based in Digbeth, said: “This is a significant win for Birmingham businesses and will put the city at the forefront of developing new technologies that rely on ultrafast speeds.

“At the Custard Factory and Fazeley Studios we have been providing ultrafast connections for several years and have seen the crucial role the service has played in the growth of digital enterprises and resulting significant increases in the number of people employed. Making these services available across wider areas of the city will multiply that effect. This latest development will provide a big boost for the city.”

A formal procurement process in accordance with Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) guidelines will now be carried out by Birmingham City Council to secure a formal partner for the delivery of services. It is expected that this will commence in autumn 2012.

Ends

For media enquiries contact Kris Kowalewski at Birmingham City Council on 0121 303 3621

Notes to editors

1.    Digital Birmingham was established in 2006 to ensure the benefits of digital and new emerging technologies are available to all people, businesses and sectors in the city.  The Digital Birmingham partnership includes representation from key business, research, educational, health and community sector organisations such as Virgin, Cisco, Centro, E.ON Energy Solutions Ltd, Coventry University Enterprises, Birmingham City University, Birmingham Science Park (Aston) and Marketing Birmingham.  By developing the city’s digital infrastructure and digital services, it is determined to see Birmingham become a Smart, Connected City which will be critical in enhancing the region’s economic opportunities, as well as promoting greater social inclusion, enterprise and wellbeing.

2.    What is State Aid? State Aid refers to forms of assistance from a public body, or publicly-funded body, given to selected undertakings (any entity which puts goods or services on the given market), which has the potential to distort competition and affect trade between member states of the European Union. The European Commission monitors and controls State Aid in the EU.  Member States are obliged to notify and seek approval from the Commission before granting State Aid. This gives the Commission the opportunity to approve or refuse to approve the proposed measure.

3.    Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester and Newcastle were named as beneficiaries of the UK Government’s Urban Broadband Fund: in March 2012, a fund established to enable them to become super-connected cities. By 2015 this will deliver ultrafast broadband coverage to 1.7 million households and 200,000 businesses in high growth areas as well as high speed wireless broadband for three million residents.

4.    The EU Commission’s State Aid ruling press announcement can be found in full here: http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/12/596&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

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