Superfast Cymru: how much progress has BT made?

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What is Superfast Cymru?

In July 2012, the Welsh Government awarded the contract to deliver its next-generation broadband project, “Superfast Cymru”, to BT. The project is intended to roll out next-generation fibre-based broadband (able to access speeds of 24 Megabits per second or more) to 96 per cent of Wales by 2016. BT is only providing the infrastructure – once this is in place it will be available for use by other internet service providers.

Lots of information about the Superfast Cymru project is available on the Superfast Cymru website. The website includes a phone number and postcode checker that can be used to see when superfast broadband will be available in a given area.

What progress has BT made?

BT has said that delivery of the scheme is on track, and that over 290,000 premises have broadband as a result of the Superfast Cymru project. The average speed made available to consumers, according to BT, is over 60 Megabits per second. When added to BT’s commercial fibre roll-out, over 920,000 (or over 60 per cent of all premises in Wales) now have access to fibre broadband.

In July 2014, the previous Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology issued a written statement providing an update on Superfast Cymru. This stated that “our target is to have enabled [through Superfast Cymru] around 480,000 – about one third – of premises in Wales by spring 2015”.

The Deputy Minister said at the time:

Meeting this target requires a step change in the rate of deployment to around 100,000 premises per quarter, a rate of deployment far greater than many other areas of the UK.

Although BT has said that Enterprise Zones and Local Growth Zones are prioritised in the roll-out schedule, at the time of writing, full superfast coverage in these areas has not been achieved.

superfastWill everyone in Wales benefit?

Not all premises in Wales are due to be served by Superfast Cymru. The Welsh Government and BT envisage that 4 per cent of premises will be deemed too inaccessible to be provided with next-generation broadband cost-effectively through this project. The location of these premises is being gradually discovered by BT as their work progresses. Although many of these premises will be in geographically remote areas, some will be in urban centres – such as Cardiff and Swansea – where local issues (such as planning constraints or physical barriers to laying cable) impede access.

The Welsh Government intends to use the Superfast Cymru Infill Project to bring fibre broadband to areas not covered by either Superfast Cymru or by telecommunications companies’ own fibre programmes.

The Welsh Government has identified 45,887 premises that are not in the scope of Superfast Cymru or any commercial roll-out planned within the next three years. The location of these premises can be seen (highlighted in white) on the following map, available on the Welsh Government website.

How do people get their broadband services upgraded?

Premises are not automatically connected to superfast broadband under the scheme. Once the local network has been upgraded, individuals need to contact their internet service provider to arrange for their services to be upgraded.

The Minister for Economy, Science and Transport has said that the Welsh Government and BT have a “comprehensive communications and engagement strategy in place” to raise awareness of Superfast Cymru and the benefits superfast broadband brings, both to businesses and households. BT has asked for help from Assembly Members in raising awareness of the opportunities provided by the Superfast Cymru project.

Is Wales making the most of broadband access?

Ofcom research shows that in 2014 Wales has the lowest broadband take-up in the UK, at 71 per cent of households compared to a UK average of 77 per cent. Furthermore, research has shown that broadband take-up typically mirrors other existing inequalities within society (see section 4.2.3 of Ofcom’s 2014 Communications Market Report). This means that, left unchecked, there is a risk that superfast broadband access could exacerbate existing divisions within society, as better educated people in well-paid professional jobs access superfast services, which more disadvantaged members of society are unable to access. Significant digital inclusion work will be needed if Wales is to make the most of the opportunities provided by superfast broadband.

Article by Robin Wilkinson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.