Birmingham has reinforced its claim to be Britain’s undisputed digital capital after being given the go-ahead from Europe to invest £10 million in bringing ultrafast broadband to the city.
Businesses in Digbeth, Eastside and the Jewellery Quarter, at the heart of the city’s new enterprise zone, will be the first to benefit following negotiations co-ordinated by the Birmingham City Council-led Digital Birmingham partnership.
Birmingham secured a £10 million funding package from the Government’s Urban Broadband Fund in March but the process required a State Aid decision from the European Community before it could be given the green light.
The ruling was required as the proposals will see the council intervene in the current telecommunications marketplace to join forces with a delivery partner to provide the service.
The decision means a formal procurement process can now get under way, something the city council is hopeful will start this autumn.
Mark Barrow, the city council’s strategic director for development said the move offered huge commercial benefits for the city and the wider region and firmly reinforced Birmingham’s pre-eminent position in the UK.
“Generally we are at the forefront – we are leading this in the UK and it is great news for everyone in Birmingham,” he said.
“It is putting Birmingham at the heart of the global economy and making sure we are at the leading edge of technological development.”
Mr Barrow added that the move would also encourage businesses to come to the city, particularly the enterprise zone where ultrafast broadband would be one of many incentives and benefits.
“Businesses that use technology in a significant way want the reliability and predictability of that kind of infrastructure because of the edge it gives them in a business sense,” he said. “Given our plans are much more advanced than any other area I would expect it to give Birmingham a marketing edge.
“In the enterprise zone we can say it isn’t just something on its own but it adds such a lot to the overall package we are able to put together.”
Developing the broadband infrastructure is also expected to have a knock-on effect, encouraging technology firms to enhance and develop it.
“It provides all sorts of other commercial opportunities for businesses to come and develop ultrafast broadband in Birmingham and will make the whole market more competitive,” said Mr Barrow. “It will accelerate investment in ultrafast broadband for the city. There is also nothing stopping existing operators moving ahead and accelerating their plans for Birmingham.”
Mr Barrow said while download speeds were generally “reasonable”, uploading was often a different matter and said it was vital for businesses to have both.
The superfast broadband initiative will also be complemented by the development of a 4G network for the city – another pioneering digital move.
The development comes after Birmingham was declared IBM’s Smart UK City for 2012, a significant seal of approval for digital initiatives from “a serious industry player”, according to Mr Barrow.