Manchester revises digital bids to meet state aid rules

Manchester City Council has been awarded up to £10.74m, subject to meeting agreed conditions, from the government's Urban Broadband Fund to spread the advantages of ultrafast broadband and digital inclusion.

Initiatives which if approved will be delivered before spring 2015 include:

Business connectivity voucher scheme, £3.65m: More than 2,000 businesses expected to benefit from support to fund preliminary works enabling ultrafast broadband to be installed. For small and medium sized businesses with fewer than 250 employees and a turnover below £37m.

Wi-fi in public buildings, £2.7m: Enabling 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.

Wi-fi on public transport, £440,000: Extending access to free wi-fi via the FreebeeMcr network to Metrolink trams and Metroshuttles as part of a wider package of funding.

Manchester Science Park Smart and Connected initiative, £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.

Airport City Enterprise Zone ducting, £500,000, subject to confirmation that this conforms with European Union state aid rules: Funding the incorporation of ducting enabling new roads to accommodate high speed broadband infrastructure into Manchester Airport City Enterprise Zone.

Manchester City Council said additional funding was being discussed with the Department of Culture, Media & Sport that could bring further investment to the city. Manchester and 22 other cities were originally 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.

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