Norwich MP calls on culture secretary Sajid Javid to help city businesses get super-connected broadband

Chloe Smith Chloe Smith

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
6:59 AM

Britain’s newest cabinet minister has been told in no uncertain terms to fund faster broadband to set Norwich’s creative sector soaring.

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Chloe Smith’s letter to Culture Secretary Sajid Javid

Dear Sajid,

Superconnected Cities: Norwich

I am delighted to see the progress that the Superconnected Cities programme is making, and would like to bid for Norwich’s inclusion in a forthcoming round.

As a separate problem to broadband progress in rural areas of Norfolk, urban broadband is inadequate for my constituents in key business sectors. This includes Norwich’s digital and creative sector, a key service sector, where we would hope to compete internationally. Some of the fastest growing and most innovative local businesses (members of the Eastern Daily Press’ Future50) are clear on one of the barriers holding them back: urban broadband right in the city centre.

For example, when software company FXHOME – with clients in filmmaking around the world – moved its business to a new headquarters in Norwich it expected a super-fast broadband upgrade within weeks. But two years down the line it is still waiting to get connected.

Andrea Wake of the company says: “We really need super-fast broadband to ensure the future of our business, otherwise we cannot move to a cloud-based system. Our alternative is to pay £12,000 to a get fibre optic line installed ourselves, which for a small business is a massive cost. We now need to upload more content to support our live website streaming, and at the moment we have to do that from home because of the issues we have with downloading and uploading at work.”

Aimee Konieczny, of another Future50 company Cornwall Energy, said the company also moved to Norwich for super-fast broadband, but was being held back by the speed of their internet connection: “The lack of internet speed is now affecting the company’s ability to grow further and the leased-line option is too expensive for a small business.”

We don’t want to be a city in the internet slow lane.

As a constituency MP, I have taken up individual cases with BT including of industrial estates out from the city centre. I have also secured the support of the Eastern Daily Press, the Local Enterprise Partnership and other business groups, and leaders of the creative sector like Norwich University of the Arts in writing to you now.

Prof John Last, Vice-Chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts, says:

“As Vice Chancellor I see the opportunity to place Norwich University of the Arts at the centre of the development and strengthening of the Digital Creative Sector in Norwich.

“Our graduates in Film, Animation, Graphic Design and Games Design are fuelling the start-up community, and see entrepreneurial new opportunities for digital creativity which will generate national and international revenue. While at NUA our students develop their ideas without concern for the limitations of internet provision. The university benefits from a 500 MB provision, and uses in excess of 100 MB each day…but once they leave the picture is very different, where even ‘super-fast’ broadband provision offers only 30-60 MB. In order for the digital creative sector to prosper, it is vital that the infrastructure is suited to commercial requirements, and that investment is focussed on building an environment in which talented creative technologists can grow their business, to create the associated high-value jobs.

“As Chair of the New Anglia LEP Digital Creative Group I asked NUA colleagues to undertake on behalf of the LEP research amongst the existing digital businesses in Norwich. Of over 50 businesses that responded every one of them said that commercial speed broadband was the most important factor to enable their business to grow and flourish in Norwich.”

The innovation vouchers which existing superconnected cities are using could put us in the fast lane where we belong – and that means local jobs.

I hope you will give Norwich all consideration should you run a new round of awards.

Yours ever,

Chloe Smith

MP for Norwich North

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has written to culture secretary Sajid Javid to “hammer home” the demand that he puts the city at the front of the queue when future super-connected cities cash is handed out.

Mr Javid took up his position this month when Maria Miller resigned her post amid a row over her expenses.

And the Bromsgrove MP is being urged to make things happen for Norwich, where businesses, individuals and other organisations are eager to exploit the opportunities afforded by faster broadband.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) super-connected cities initiative, which began in 2011, has seen £150m given to 22 cities across the UK.

Super-connected cities selected in the programme will benefit from faster and better broadband for small businesses, with a voucher scheme launched to contribute towards the costs of connections.

In addition, almost all of the participating cities will deploy wireless coverage to city centres and inside public buildings with funding from Broadband Delivery UK.

While Norwich missed out in the first two rounds of bidding, Whitehall sources have signalled the possibility of the programme being extended.

Ms Smith said: “I will be taking this campaign call to the new culture secretary because it remains a crucial issue for Norwich. We can thrive with better broadband but we risk being left behind if we don’t have it.

“I will make sure as one of the city’s MPs that this message is hammered home.”

Moves to secure higher internet speeds for small Norwich businesses have been welcomed by business leaders.

Chris Starkie, managing director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partner-ship, said the cash would complement countywide investment to up rural broadband speeds.

“Whether it’s by the super-connected route or by whatever funding, what we’re trying to do is highlight

the importance and the need for good speeds within the city.”

A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “We’re very much in favour of further developments which will help to deliver ultra-fast broadband in Norwich as this is something we’ve been investigating for quite some time now.

“We therefore wholeheartedly welcome any news on the project and look forward to receiving details of what that entails for Norwich.”

Sources at DCMS said they were looking at ways to extend the benefits of the super-connected cities programme beyond the current 22 super-connected cities.

How slow broadband is restricting business growth

A Norwich businessman claims sluggish broadband speeds are costing him £1,000 per member of staff in lost time every year.

Josh Davies, co-founder of the specialist video editing company FX Home, said a better internet connection would allow him to create more jobs.

And he urged the Culture Secretary to view funding improvements as a shrewd long-term investment which would benefit the economy.

“The effects of slow broadband are massive and far-reaching,” said the 34-year-old, who grew up in Fakenham. “It’s a huge problem.

“We’ve 20 people in an office here sharing broadband that’s the same as the slowest you get at home these days.

“We’re a media company and when you’re trying to upload a movie to YouTube it’s taking four or five times as long as it should.

“At the worst of it, you can’t respond to a customer for a day or so.”

The firm, in St Giles Street, was founded by the University of East Anglia graduate more than a decade ago - initially from his bedroom.

Its special effects software has won an army of independent film maker fans who use it to produce movies on Youtube, and has also been used in mainstream movies Hangover 2 and Salt.

While the firm has already rebuffed an attempt by Apple to buy it and has enormous potential, Mr Davies said he was frustrated at how slow broadband has restricted the company’s growth.

He said internet delays had hampered their work, as it was not possible to store data remotely on cloud technology.

Instead the company has to pay for more computer servers on site, and if they are damaged data could be lost forever.

He estimated he could create five more jobs in a matter of months if speeds were upped, and that work to do this would not cost the earth.

“It’s just one cable going out to the broadband cabinets, so it’s not a massive amount of money,” he said. “The expensive work has all been done - it’s the next step.”

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