Small businesses across Belfast will be getting a bumper Christmas present, thanks to a special funding package of up to £3,000 for faster Internet connections to help improve their online access.

The broadband voucher scheme is part of the Super-connected Belfast project and is just one of the initiatives being delivered by Belfast City Council, under its Investment Programme for the city.

The council ran a pilot scheme over the summer to test trade take-up for the vouchers, with companies across the city applying for financial support to access improved high speed broadband.

Target locations were identified in the Cathedral Quarter, City East, Ormeau Business Park, Ortus, Argyle Business Park, North City Business Centre and the Harbour Estate.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which has provided £13.7 million towards the Super-connected Belfast project, has today given the green light to a full rollout of the scheme in ten cities with super-connected programmes, including Belfast. It will be extended to a further 12 cities in early 2014.

The announcement coincides with Small Business Saturday, an initiative to drive support for small businesses across the UK.

Belfast City Council is contributing £3 million towards the Super-connected programme, and additional funding is expected to come from the European Regional Development Fund and the private sector.

Communications Minister Ed Vaizey said: “The broadband market is moving at an incredible pace. Today, businesses expect and demand faster and faster broadband to compete in the global race. Connection vouchers will be an important tool for cities in helping to address that demand, and government has now allocated up to £100 million to provide a digital boost to super-connected cities like Belfast.”

Welcoming the news in Belfast, Alderman Gavin Robinson, Chair of the Council’s Strategic and Policy Resources Committee, said: “This is amazing news for our city. As a pilot scheme, we received more applications than any other city, and our Super-connected Belfast team have developed online and back office applications which can be used as the foundation of this city-wide scheme.

“We have received positive feedback from applicants and telecoms suppliers taking part in the pilot scheme. Through their applications, businesses have indicated that improving broadband connectivity will be responsible for the creation of at least 300 jobs in the next three years, as well as a potential growth of up to £20 million in the local economy.”

The voucher scheme is just one strand of the Super-connected Belfast programme – by 2015, the council aims to have improved wireless and wi-fi access across the city, via metro wireless in the city centre and wi-fi hotspots in more public buildings.

Businesses who wish to apply for the voucher scheme can find out more on the Belfast City Council website at www.belfastcity.gov.uk/superconnected

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. In March 2012, DCMS announced that Belfast was one of 22 cities to benefit from its £150 million Super Connected Cities programme to improve digital infrastructure across the UK. Other recipients include Derry/Londonderry, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

2. The Super-connected Belfast project will provide increased access to faster and better broadband, as well as large areas of public wireless internet (wi-fi) access.

3. Today’s announcement from DCMS forms part of a wider package of new benefits for SMEs announced on Small Business Saturday, as part of the UK Government’s new offer for small businesses – for further information, please go to www.bis.gov.uk