Back in January 2017 we attended the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in Cardiff to give evidence on the state of broadband coverage across Wales and answer various questions the committee posed. Now in September the final report has been published1 and includes some 12 recommendations. This news article is a little long, so we’d like to make one recommendation in public to the Welsh Government: There is no doubt that if future proofing broadband for those in the 8.5% who cannot get superfast broadband today is at all important that full fibre (FTTP) solutions should be delivered. Several areas of Wales now have such large amounts of FTTP that the benefits should be measureable in terms of connection reliability and benefits this brings to business and home workers particularly.
We raised concerns over confusion about what the Superfast Cymru project was delivering and unfortunately this confusion still exists in the report, in short the confusion over what the 96% target is Wales actually is continues. For those that don’t know, the target is usually referred to as 96% fibre based broadband coverage across Wales, which would thus include VDSL2 lines at lengths where speeds of only 1 to 2 Mbps (or even less) were possible and this woolly definition may explain some of the public anger. We said that references to the final 4% back in January were misleading but still there is talk of connecting the final 4% across Wales when if the goal is to deliver superfast there is still more than 4% that needs delivering.
As the topic of where Wales is in terms of roll-out is so important we have included our usual analysis table with a few changes to the columns, and at 95.9% fibre based coverage Wales is actually only 1,600 premises away from meeting the fibre based target on our tracking. If the 96% target is a stricter one, e.g. only lines with speeds of 10 Mbps or faster are available then they are just 0.5% shy of the goal (another 6,700 premises). With a goal stated a couple of years ago of delivering 80,000 premises of native GEA-FTTP across Wales and lots of FTTP areas showing as in build both of these targets look achievable and before December 2017. The end of 2017 is important as any grace period for delays in the build ends and penalty clauses are believed to kick in for BT, so we can expect an all hands on deck invasion of Wales by Openreach in the next couple of months. Of course no-one can be 100% accurate on such large and dynamic datasets, so if Welsh politicians want to say the 96% target has been reached it is so close that we will not fight that – the issues we have is that the superfast coverage levels are still down at 91.5% and the majority of the public when they hear 96% target reached for SuperfastCyrmu project will immediately think that this is incorrectly 96% coverage at superfast speeds, and we include journalists in this, as all too often once press releases are re-hashed for publication the wrong labels are used.
If you want to read our summary of the recommendations from the report, scroll past the coverage table.
thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast, USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage across the Wales and delivery via the BDUK project.
data 20th September 2017Area% fibre based
Cable% Openreach VDSL2/FTTP% superfast
30 Mbps or faster% Ultrafast
100 Mbps or faster
% Full Fibre
% Under 2 Mbps download% Under 10 Mbps downloadWales 95.9% 94.1% 91.5% 32.6%
1,268.494 1,245,351 1,210,532 431,079
12,586 59,171 BDUK Project
Excludes FTTP (*) 99% 98.6% 90.8% 6.7% 0% 2% 4.3% Wales in January 2013 45.4% 45.4% 44.1% 28.7% 0.25% 6% 22.5% Abertawe – Swansea 98.4% 93.9% 97.1% 72.8%
0.1% 1% Blaenau Gwent 99.9% 99.9% 98.3% 1.1%
0.2% 0.4% Bro Morgannwg – the Vale of Glamorgan 96.7% 95.6% 93.7% 52.4%
0.6% 3.2% Caerdydd – Cardiff 99% 94.2% 98.2% 79.7%
0% 0.3% Caerffili – Caerphilly 99% 99% 96.1% 0.3%
0.1% 0.8% Casnewydd – Newport 97.4% 90.2% 96.1% 68.5%
0.1% 1.3% Castell-nedd Port Talbot – Neath Port Talbot 98.6% 96.7% 96% 60.7%
0.5% 1% Conwy 95.1% 95.1% 90.5% 1.8%
1.2% 5.6% Gwynedd 93% 63% 82.9% 11.4%
1.9% 9.8% Merthyr Tudful – Merthyr Tydfil 99.5% 99.5% 96.9% 3.1%
0.3% 0.6% Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr – Bridgend 97.3% 97.3% 95.5% 0.8%
0.2% 1% Powys 84.5% 84.5% 71.3% 12%
4.2% 19% Rhondda Cynon Taf 99.2% 98.3% 96.8% 9.1%
0.1% 0.7% Sir Benfro – Pembrokeshire 92.5% 92.5% 82.5% 3.6%
2.7% 10.7% Sir Ddinbych – Denbighshire 86.9% 86.9% 82.8% 1.3%
0.7% 10.4% Sir Fynwy – Monmouthshire 95.7% 95.7% 84.3% 4.5%
3.4% 9.5% Sir Gaerfyrddin – Carmarthenshire 91.1% 91.1% 81.2% 4%
2.8% 11.4% Sir y Fflint – Flintshire 95.8% 95.8% 91.1% 5.9%
0.4% 3.9% Sir Ynys Mon – Isle of Anglesey 93.5% 93.5% 84.6% 11.8%
1.6% 9% Tor-faen – Torfaen 97.9% 97.7% 95.9% 30.2%
0.2% 1% Wrecsam – Wrexham 95.8% 95.8% 90.7% 3%
(*) In Wales the vast majority of Openreach GEA-FTTP is via the BDUK project, but indentifying new build estate commercial FTTP versus the BDUK areas is too time consuming to resolve, so we have included the BDUK footprint excluding FTTP. The full fibre column features two figures and any other coverage reports from now on will follow the same pattern, the first figure is full fibre irrespective of who the operator is and the figure in brackets is the contribution from Openreach, this change will hopefully highlight the contribution from operators such as Hyperoptic in Cardiff.
- Problems with communication have hampered the project and any future contract should include a communication performance target.
- A grant or equity scheme should be established to help small operators fill in the gaps in the network. Public ownership or partnerships should also be explored.
- Future schemes should build on the success of the Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher schemes.
- It is vital that the hardest to reach communities and individuals are now engaged in the process to ensure that potential solutions can be tailored to their needs. Connecting the final 4% is will (typo in report)be more expensive and it is vital that communities buy in to to the solutions being proposed.
- As assessment of future needs is needed to inform the next stages. Connectivity needs to be suitable for now and the future.
- Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future.
- The planning regime should be reformed to support investment in digital connectivity.
- Welsh Government does not have the powers to force mobile operators to share infrastructure, but should encourage this.
- Work with Ofcom and Mobile Network Operators to offer non-domestic rates relief on new mobile masts in non-commercial areas.
- Work more closely with stakeholders over forthcoming Mobile Action Plan
- Ofcom needs to use all its regulatory powers to ensure its 100% geographic coverage target is met.
- Welsh Government and planning authorities should a toolkit to make acecss to grant and and community funding for those that want to enhance mobile connectivity in their area.
For those living in Wales who have checked their postcode on the Openreach site2 we estimate that something like 20,000 to 40,000 premises are pencilled in for FTTP to be delivered by end of December 2017, and as such this will tip the project past its original goals.
The real question now is what will Wales actually do in terms of additional contracts and how will the gainshare be used, ?56m which has been announced as available to extend coverage, this could deliver 30,000 to 40,000 premises of full fibre coverage that is thus fully future proofed. Voucher schemes while appealing and a good way of dealing with those in most need who find out about the scheme but carry the risk of explotation in the form of prices rising to maximise income for operators from the vouchers, the bigger issue is that vouchers tend to pass much of the public with out them noticing simply because for most people their family and job occupy most of their time rather than chasing better broadband – yes poor and slow broadband is a real pain but other aspects of life often mean the majority only learn about better broadband options when its pointed out to them individually. This is actually a major problem with FTTP roll-outs where the choice of provider is limited, both for the Openreach and other alternate operators – this issue does vanish once you reach the community led efforts of B4RN and its clones since community spirit takes over.
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Future subsidies to landowners in Wales should be conditional on them allowing mobile phone masts on their land, according to a National Assembly committee. A report from the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee calls on the Welsh Government to consider innovative ways to connect Wales. The Committee agreed that more could be done to explore public subsidy to improve mobile coverage in areas which remain commercially unviable.
The report states: “In particular, where landowners are already in receipt of public subsidies, it seems strange that they could refuse to allow mobile operators access to their land to maintain and construct mobile masts.
Mobile phone mast in North Wales
“The Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future, in particular any likely convergence between broadband and mobile internet connectivity.”
The committee is also asking the Welsh Government to consider reforming the planning regime to improve mobile phone coverage across the country.
Other recommendations from the report include establishing a repayable grant or equity scheme to allow small operators to fill broadband gaps, and involving the communities without broadband in the process of finding a solution.
It said regulator Ofcom needs to use all its powers to meet its target of 100% mobile coverage, which should be a condition of future auctions of the right to transmit.
Russell George AM, chairman of the committee, said: “Connectivity is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ in our daily lives.
“For many people and businesses we spoke to during our inquiry, it’s now considered an essential service like electricity.
“Wales’s landscape and population spread poses challenges in a world where market forces determine broadband and mobile phone coverage.
“While the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru broadband scheme, delivered with BT, has connected high numbers of people, there remain pockets it has not be able to reach, and this is echoed with mobile phone coverage.”
He added: “Our recommendations will help Wales to develop a digital infrastructure which is as fast and as reliable as other parts of the UK, and is fit for the future.
“Filling in the gaps so that everyone can receive a good service is the minimum requirement.
“More can be done to help people take up those services once available and to take potentially controversial steps to ensure that the connectivity many of us take for granted is available to all.1
A major study has revealed the areas of Wales with the slowest broadband speeds. The map below shows the areas worst served by broadband connections in the lightest colours. Wales has some of the slowest speeds of any part of the UK.
Four of the 10 constituencies with the slowest download speeds in the UK are in Wales, with Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in the top position. This is based on Which? consumer-tested broadband speeds.
This is the UK table of shame, dominated by Wales and Scotland:
1. Carmarthen and Dinefwr
2. Ross, Sky and Lochaber
3. Na h-Eilanan an Iar
4. Orkney and Shetland
Argyll and Bute
6. North Herefordshire
8. Brecon and Radnorshire
9. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross
There were another three Welsh constituencies in the worst 20 for broadband speeds, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (15th) and Monmouth (19th).
How the study worked
The researchers for the British Infrastructure Group (BIG)1 also looked at the total number of broadband connections in the constituency. They they used Ofcom data at how many of them had connections of above 10 MB/s (million bits per second) or 24 MB/s.
Families who want to have a number of members watching videos, listening to music or playing games at the same time are advised they would need speeds of around 24 MB/s to avoid problems. Anything below 10 MB/s would be insufficient to reliably stream videos even for a single user. The researchers found that 6.7m UK broadband connections didn’t even reach 10 MB/s and only 40.8% achieved over 24 MB/s.
The constituencies with the least substandard broadband
(% broadband connections slower than 10 Mb/s in 2016)
- Bristol West 11.3%
- Edinburgh South 14.1%
- Edinburgh South West 14.1%
- Hampstead and Kilburn 14.5%
- Westminster North 14.7%
- Reading East 15%
- Sutton and Cheam 15.1%
- Belfast South 15.3%
- Leicester South 15.3%
The Welsh constituencies with the least substandard broadband
(% broadband connections slower than 10 Mb/s in 2016)
Swansea West 20.0%
- 2. Cardiff Central 22.6%
- 3. Cardiff West 24.5%
- 4. Swansea East 25.2%
- 5. Gower 26.3%
- =6 Newport East 26.8%
- =6 Aberavon 26.8%
- 7. Cardiff South and Penarth 28.7%
- 8. Cardiff North 28.9%
- 9. Neath 29.4%
- 10. Newport West 30.0%
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Governments must ‘stop passing the buck’
More than 50 MPs from across the party divides have come together to press for action amid concern that nearly seven million connections may not deliver the proposed minimum standard.
Dwyfor Meirionnydd Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts, one of the supporters of the report, said: “Far too many people across Wales are unable to access what Ofcom recognises as the speed required for basic tasks such as web browsing, streaming and video calling, and this digital divide undoubtedly contributes to the wider economic divide, depressing wages and living standards. The British Government and the Welsh Government must stop passing the buck and commit to connecting the whole of Wales with ultra-fast broadband.”
It is understood that less than half of all UK connections receive superfast speeds of 24 Mb/s. The MPs say it is “almost impossible” to determine how many households do not receive the speeds set out in their contracts.
Lack of access is ‘stifling the potential of local business’
Newly elected Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi
Gower Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, another supporter of the report, said: “Access to fast broadband is a fundamental requirement for rural economies to thrive. Gower continues to lack consistent connectivity across the constituency, this includes mobile coverage.
“Gower is home to a mix of micro and small and medium businesses, from creative industries to food production. It is essential for my constituents and their businesses to be served with high quality broadband and mobile coverage.
“There are 7,408 broadband connections in Gower not meeting the basic minimum download speed. This is a matter which the UK Government and providers must address immediately.
“I fear lack of access to decent broadband is stifling the potential of local business and preventing growth within the region.”
Grant Shapps, the former Conservative chairman who chairs the group, said: “Although broadband is increasingly considered to be an essential utility, the quality of customer services has simply not caught up with demand. It is unacceptable that there are still no minimum standards in the UK telecoms sector to protect customers from protracted complaints procedures, and ensure that broadband providers are fully accountable to their customers.”
The MPs say it is “unacceptable” Ofcom has not considered automatic compensation for households that consistently get a poor service below what they are paying for.
Governments have ‘dragged their heels for too long’
Ceredigion Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake (Image: Marian Delyth)
Ceredigion Plaid Cymru MP, Ben Lake, one of the backers of the report, said: “Poor broadband speed, as well as poor mobile data signal not only impacts on residents but on businesses who are unable to reach beyond their local areas.
“Digital connectivity simply isn’t good enough in Ceredigion and in many other parts of Wales and the result is our rural communities are being cut off.
“Whilst businesses in cities such as Cardiff could feasibly rely on passing trade, rural areas have to go beyond their local high street. It is vital that we ensure businesses, and every resident in Wales, including rural Wales, have access to high-speed broadband and mobile data signal. Westminster and the Welsh Government have dragged their heels for too long – we’ve waited long enough.”
This year’s Digital Economy Act set out a so-called universal service obligation across the country, which defined a minimum broadband download speed of 10 Mb/s.
This is what the Welsh Government is doing:
The Welsh Government insists it is making progress on broadband
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said: “There has been tremendous progress in the availability of superfast broadband across the country thanks to the work of the Welsh Government. Over 647,000 premises can now access it in Wales as a result of the Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru programme.
“The latest Ofcom report shows that Wales has the highest availability of superfast broadband among the devolved nations, largely thanks to the Superfast Cymru programme, with eight out of 10 premises with access. This compares with just over half in 2014.
“Areas such as Gwynedd, Conwy and Anglesey would have no access to superfast broadband without the intervention of Superfast Cymru. Now, for example, over 49,000 premises in Gwynedd can access it…
“We know there is more to do to reach the final premises including those not part of the Superfast Cymru rollout, and we are already looking at how to do this. We’ve recently announced potential funding of ?80m to reach the small percentage of premises not part of the Superfast Cymru project or commercial rollout.
“Once superfast broadband has been made available people will not receive it automatically. If they wish to receive it they will need to contact their internet service provider in order to change their package so that they can receive the faster speeds.
“Our Access Broadband Cymru scheme can also offer assistance to those currently not able to access superfast broadband by providing grant aid to receive it through other technologies.”
See how your constituency ranks for high speed internet access
(% broadband connections slower than 10 Mb/s in 2016)
- 1. Carmarthen East and Dinefwr 58.2%
- 2. Montgomeryshire 58.0%
- 3. Ceredigion 55.1%
Dwyfor Meirionnydd 50.9%
- 5. Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 49.8%
- 6. Monmouth 49.1%
- 7. Brecon and Radnorshire 48.9%
- 8. Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney 47.3%
- 9. Aberconwy 44.3%
- 10. Islwyn 44.2%
- 11. Preseli Pembrokeshire 44.1%
- 12. Clwyd South 43.8%
- 14. Alyn and Deeside 43.1%
- 15. Delyn 42.8%
- 16. Wrexham 42.0%
- 17. Rhondda 41.6%
- =18. Clwyd West 41.2%
- =18. Torfaen 41.2%
- 19. Cynon Valley 40.9%
- 20. Anglesey 40.5%
- 22. Llanelli 39.8%
- 23. Ogmore 38.9%
- 24. Pontypridd 37.4%
- 25. Arfon 35.9%
- =26. Blaenau Gwent 32.6%
- =26. Vale of Glamorgan 32.6%
- 27. Vale of Clwyd 32.1%
- 28. Newport West 30.0%
- 30. Cardiff North 28.9%
- 31. Cardiff South and Penarth 28.7%
- =32. Aberavon 26.8%
- =32. Newport East 26.8%
- 33. Gower 26.3%
- 34. Swansea East 25.2%
- 35. Cardiff West 24.5%
- 36. Cardiff Central 22.6%
Swansea West 20.0%
- ^ http://www.britishinfrastructuregroup.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Broadbad-2.0-Final-2.pdf (www.britishinfrastructuregroup.uk)