Newcastle launches plan to become ‘super-connected’

Newcastle hopes to become one of the UK’s first ‘super-connected’ cities thanks to a range of digital initiatives that aim to boost the city’s economy.

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Newcastle hopes to become one of the UK’s first ‘super-connected’ cities thanks to a range of digital initiatives that aim to boost the city’s economy.

Chancellor George Osborne announced £50 million in the March 2012 Budget speech for super-connected cities, which included Newcastle. It is one of a total 22 super-connected cities being funded by government.

Under Newcastle City Council’s Go Digital Newcastle scheme, 97 percent of the city will have access to superfast fibre broadband from BT by 2015 and the city centre will have free wifi. There will also be a cloud computing centre established, and business connection vouchers and a business support programme made available. The scheme has received £9 million of public funding.

Council leader Nick Forbes said: “Our city-based businesses can use the faster speeds to reach new markets and products and compete on both a national and international scale.

“Go Digital Newcastle will boost the local economy and help create and protect local jobs.”

SMEs, charities and social enterprises are able to apply for vouchers worth up to £3,000 to get connected to high-speed broadband from a list of nearly 200 registered suppliers in a designated super-connected city.

They can also access a free business support programme that offers digital masterclasses and workshops, delivered by BE Group. This programme is being funded by the council and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

In terms of the city-wide wifi access, residents and visitors will be able to access the internet in public buildings, in high streets and eventually, on the Metro.

Chi Onwurah (pictured), MP for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central, believes that internet connectivity is now a necessity rather than a luxury.

“They will make Newcastle even more attractive to organisations looking for a base with world-class connections, while enhancing the activities of our local businesses, helping create and safeguard jobs,” she said.

After being awarded the contract to deploy fibre broadband across Newcastle, BT will replace copper cabling with fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) to deliver speeds of up to 80Mbps. Most businesses and homes will have access to at least 30Mbps.

The network will be open to all communications providers on an equal wholesale basis “so householders and businesses will benefit from a highly-competitive market,” the council said.

The £9 million public funding for the Go Digital Newcastle scheme comes from the Local/Rural Broadband Programme, to which BT is investing £1.98 million, and the council is investing £970,000, which is matched by the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) broadband programme.

Birmingham and Newark are a city and a market town that have rolled out wifi across the centres over the past few years.