Next generation broadband in Wales: developments over the summer

22 September 2015

Article by Robin Wilkinson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

An engineer working on Superfast Cymru

Image from Flikr by btphotosbduk Licensed under the Creative Commons

What is Superfast Cymru?

Superfast Cymru is the Welsh Government and BT’s project 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 the end of 2016. The Welsh Government is working towards connecting the remaining 4 per cent of hard-to-reach premises, also by the end of 2016, by using targeted schemes such as Access Broadband Cymru and “infill” projects.

What has the Wales Audit Office said?

In May 2015 the Wales Audit Office published its report into Welsh Government investment in next generation broadband infrastructure. This concluded that the Welsh Government was “making reasonable progress” in rolling out access to next generation broadband services. The Auditor General also made recommendations including the following:

  • The Welsh Government should continue to review its marketing activities so as to improve communication about the local rollout of next generation broadband.
  • The Welsh Government should set an aspirational target for the take-up of next generation broadband (at this point no such target existed). It should also collect information to demonstrate the use that can be made of next generation broadband by businesses and individuals.
  • Take up of Access Broadband Cymru had been low. The Welsh Government should therefore review this scheme’s operation.
  • The Welsh Government should develop a benefits management strategy to maximise the wider benefits – for individuals, businesses and the public sector – of access to next generation broadband.

What has the Deputy Minister said?

In July 2015 the Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology issued a statement about Superfast Cymru where she discussed some of the conclusions from the WAO’s report. Points she made included:

  • Work is underway on a successor scheme to Access Broadband Cymru to enable premises outside the scope of Superfast Cymru to have access to next generation broadband. She also discussed this scheme in a statement of 21 May 2015.
  • The Welsh Government is reviewing its communications arrangements around Superfast Cymru.
  • The Welsh Government has set the target of 50 per cent take-up by the end of the operational phase of the contract in 2024. At the time, 22 per cent of premises that had been enabled through Superfast Cymru for over one year had taken up the service.

What has Ofcom said?

Every year Ofcom publishes a report looking at the state of the communications markets in each of the nations in the UK. In August 2015 it concluded that Wales now has the highest availability of next generation broadband of any of the devolved nations.

Nearly four in five (79%) premises in Wales are now capable of receiving superfast broadband at speeds of 30Mbit/s, an increase of 24 percentage points from 2014 (at 55%).

Ofcom stated:

Consumers in Wales are responding to the increase in availability and are taking advantage of services hence the increase in fixed broadband take up in Wales at 77%, higher than in Scotland (71%) and Northern Ireland (69%). This increased from 69% a year ago.

What is the Deputy Minister going to say?

Increased availability and take-up of fast broadband services is undoubtedly good news for Wales. The challenge, as highlighted by the Auditor General, remains as to how the Welsh Government makes the most of the economic and social opportunities this provides. The Deputy Minister’s statement this afternoon is looking at business exploitation of superfast broadband. It will presumably address how the Welsh Government is seeking to maximise the opportunities for businesses offered by Wales’ increased connectivity.

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