Manchester unveils revised Superconnected Cities plans

Manchester has unveiled revised plans to support its drive to become a ‘superconnected city.’

Manchester City Council has been awarded up to £10.74 million, subject to meeting agreed conditions, under the government’s Urban Broadband Fund to spread the advantages of ultrafast broadband and digital inclusion and to support economic growth and job creation.

Initiatives which will be funded and delivered before Spring 2015 include:

Business connectivity voucher scheme (up to £3.65m)

More than 2,000 Manchester businesses are expected to benefit from a scheme providing support to fund preliminary works enabling ultrafast broadband to be installed. The business voucher scheme will remove construction costs in order to improve business take up of faster connectivity so the use of services like ‘cloud’ based ICT solutions and videostreaming products that could help drive efficiency, open up new markets and ultimate help economic growth. The voucher would support small and medium sized businesses (fewer than 250 employees with a turnover of no more than £37m).

Wi-Fi in public buildings (up to £2.7m)

Enabling more than 130 public buildings including libraries, leisure centres, adult education spaces and other cultural and community facilities to offer free Wi-Fi in a significant expansion of the city’s Freebee network. Being connected brings social and economic benefits and can enable access to jobs, skills and services.

WiFi on public transport (up to £440,000)

Extending access to free WiFi via the FreebeeMcr network to Metrolink trams and Metroshuttles as part of a wider package of funding.

Manchester Science Park Smart and Connected initiative (up to £2.95m)

Creating ulfrafast connectivity in a demonstrator project to encourage research and development activities and prove to businesses the potential value of high speed performance – helping to stimulate further demand. Businesses in the science and digital technology sectors are at the forefront of the UK’s growth and this investment will help ensure Manchester’s growth potential is realised. The funding will allow testing and adoption of leading edge innovation and collaboration tools which require significant capacity, quality and resilience.

Airport City Enterprise Zone ducting (up to £500,000*)

Funding the incorporation of ducting – enabling new roads to accommodate high speed broadband infrastructure – into Manchester Airport City Enterprise Zone.

Additional Funding

Additional funding is being discussed with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) that could bring further investment to Manchester.

Manchester and 22 other cities had originally been awarded money to improve digital infrastructure across the city under the Government’s Urban Broadband Fund last year. The bulk of the money was to have been used to increase the availability of ultrafast broadband to businesses across the city.

But, in common with other cities which had been awarded funding, the Council was asked by the DCMS to go back to the drawing board because of concerns that schemes would fall foul of strict European state aid regulations. EU rules state that state funding cannot be used to provide infrastructure in urban areas where it is deemed that commercial roll-out would be theoretically viable.

Councillor Nigel Murphy, Executive Member for Environment, said: “Although it is slightly disappointing that revised rules mean we can’t realise the full ambition of our original plans, this is still very good news for Manchester.

“These measures will help improve high speed internet access for businesses, and for residents through significant increased access to WiFi in public buildings and on public transport across the city.

“We aim to be one of the world’s top digital cities by 2020 and this package will make a real and lasting contribution.”

Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee, said: “We want to improve the public transport experience for our customers and providing Wi-Fi access is a key part of that. This is great news for Metrolink and Metroshuttle passengers, who will be able to make even better use of their travel time by using the internet for free.

“We will be trialling free Wi-Fi on a Metrolink tram soon and with this funding we look forward to rolling the service out right across the tram network. Key city centre transport hubs will be connected to the Freebee network in the coming months and it’s great news that we’ll be able to extend free wifi to the city’s popular free Metroshuttle service too.”

Manchester Science Park chief executive Rowena Burns said: “Ultrafast connectivity is massively important to innovation and growth. Creating a robust test bed for businesses to trial new technologies and services will assist the creation of new business models and drive further investment.”

* subject to confirmation that this conforms with state aid rules