The announcement comes as welcome news to many Brexit-watching tech SMEs who are, according to CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch, suffering with an “antiquated network infrastructure that is strangling our nation’s businesses” following “decades of underinvestment” from telecoms patriarch BT Openreach. Official figures show that almost half (46%) of SME postcodes are restricted to broadband connections of less than 10Mb, with 24% restricted to 5Mb, and 12% restricted to only 2Mb. And thanks in part to this new wave in investment, CityFibre now plans to roll out full-fibre networks in more than 500 business parks across the country, with the first parks targeted for upgrade being existing projects in Coventry, Bristol, and Peterborough. Their aim is to expand to 100 cities by 2025, which according to their estimates equates to fibre access for 60% of the UK’s businesses.
A perhaps unlikely example of high-speed internet spurring economic growth is central Cornwall, between Redruth and Truro, where previous investment has led to a slew of young digital companies springing up in the region. This new “California of the UK” includes currency exchange TorFX, e-health software developers Ultramed, digital production house Sanders Studios and media firm Headforwards – all of whom, according to Software Cornwall director Belinda Waldock, would not have chosen to base themselves in Cornwall were it not for superfast broadband. However, the majority of regions and rural towns are still without high-speed connections, and Sue Staunton – SME finance expert at venture capitalists James Cowper Kreston – sounded a note of caution by commenting that “the concern is whether this funding is genuinely there to build our innovation or whether it is there to replace what is currently received from the EU through such programmes as Horizon 2020”.