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
People in Carmarthenshire who suffer the worst internet speeds in the UK should be compensated, according to a new report. It’s been revealed that almost 14,000 properties in the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr area have inadequate broadband, making it the worst parliamentary constituency in the whole of the UK for broadband speeds, and the report – carried out by the British Infrastructure Group – states that there is a “strong case for automatically compensating broadband customers receiving inadequate speeds”. It also calls on regulator Ofcom to take a more active role in the delivery of compensation to customers who don’t receive the standard of service expected from broadband providers.
One of those providers, BT, has recently announced its aim to provide 99 per cent of premises in the UK with a minimum broadband speed of 10 mbs (megabyte per second) within the next three years, but the report assessed that 13,874 broadband connections in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr may fail to receive that speed.
“I am deeply disappointed by the findings of the report which have shown a lacklustre approach by broadband providers in Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, and indeed across Carmarthenshire,” said MP Jonathan Edwards.
“The report clearly outlines how Carmarthenshire is very much in the slow lane when compared with the rest of the UK.
“Underlining this dire record by broadband providers and the Labour Welsh Government is the fact that existing broadband infrastructure programmes often overlook rural communities, where rural broadband connectivity seems of secondary importance in an urban area-dominated rush to meet targets.
“There are mounting challenges for our rural communities here in Carmarthenshire, but also across Wales. Ensuring an equal service obligation and the effective provision of broadband in rural areas will be one step in ensuring that rural communities are able to meet these challenges. Our rural communities must not be punished for their geography in the provision of broadband connectivity.”
MP Jonathan Edwards: “Rural communities must not be punished for their geography”
Mr Edwards’ concerns about rural parts of Wales being left behind appear to be stacked up by the fact that Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Ceredigion, and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire were all rated in the worst five constituencies in Wales for high speed internet access in 2016. Meanwhile, the best performing five constituencies are all based in and around Cardiff and Swansea.
Percentage of broadband connections slower than 10 mbs in 2016:
– Carmarthen East and Dinefwr: 58.2%
– Ceredigion: 55.1%
– Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire: 49.8%
– Gower: 26.3%
– Swansea East: 25.2%
– Cardiff West: 24.5%
– Cardiff Central: 22.6%
– Swansea West: 20%
Assembly Member Adam Price believes that broadband should be thought of as an “essential service”, rather than something that one should only expect in more urban areas.
“I support the principle that Ofcom should explore automatically compensating broadband customers who consistently fail to receive the speed they pay for,”said Mr Price.
“Slow and unreliable broadband connections can leave rural customers and companies at a significant disadvantage.
“Broadband should be considered an essential service for our rural economies and we will continue to champion this issue over the coming months to ensure that Carmarthenshire can catch up and isn’t left behind in future.”
BT has announced its aim to provide 99 per cent of premises in the UK with a minimum broadband speed of 10 mbs by 2020 (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Welsh Government says the report is misleading, and that its Superfast Cymru programme already gives people in Carmarthen East and Dinfewr, and further afield, access to a faster broadband service should they wish to utilise it.
“There has been tremendous progress in the availability of superfast broadband across the country thanks to the work of the Welsh Government,” a spokeswoman said.
“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 over eight out of ten premises with access. This compares with just over half in 2014.”
The government also point to the fact that more than 50,000 premises in Carmarthenshire as a whole can now access superfast broadband, and that it is committed to ensuring that fast internet connectivity is available to all.
“While we’re aware of the UK Government’s plans for a 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO), the Welsh Government is already working towards offering fast reliable broadband to every property in Wales,” the spokeswoman added.
“As well as Superfast Cymru the Welsh Government also offers schemes such as the Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher which provides assistance for businesses to access speeds of more than 330mbps.”
Superfast broadband is now reaching nine out ten premises in Wales – transforming the digital landscape despite failing to meet the original 96% target. Since 2014 the increase in access to superfast net speeds has been dramatic for some North Wales counties. In Conwy it went from a shockingly low 5% of premises with access in July 2014 to close to 90% today while in Denbighshire it went from 38% to 81% over the same period.
Every county now has between 80% and 90% access rates (Source: thinkbroadband) – although this remains below the 96% target originally set by the Welsh Government under Superfast Cymru. This improvement has been crucial for the digital economy – opening up opportunities for businesses and making the area more attractive for hi-tech firms looking to relocate.
Percentage of premises able to access fast broadband. Source: thinkbroadband
- Conwy: 88%(5% in 2014)
- Gwynedd: 81% (57%)
- Denbighshire: 81% (38%)
- Anglesey: 80% (58%)
- Flintshire: 89% (77%)
- Wrexham 90% (52%)
Paul Roberts, who founded tech firms Stockomendation and Risc IT Solutions in Llandudno, said the expansion in net speeds was creating opportunities.
We can compete nationally
He said: “Having worked in the digital world in Wales, since 2000 starting Wales first cloud business Risc IT Solutions to now also founding Wales first Fintech 50 business, Stockomendation, I have seen first-hand the changes increased broadband speeds and bandwidth have made to our technology businesses.
“The roll-out of Superfast broadband has increased the adoption of Cloud services supplied by Risc IT Solutions across the UK and not just Wales and continues to expand our reach.
Paul Roberts from Stockomendation
“This has meant quicker access to the increased amounts of data businesses hold, the ability to work from mobile, laptops or tablets and greater security through off site Cloud backup and virtual servers.
“It also allows new ground breaking financial technology companies like Stockomendation to not be tied to central locations like London, so we can compete nationally and internationally with the added bonus of having a fantastic lifestyle living and working in the beauty of North Wales.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Superfast Cymru is making good progress.
“At the end of March over 645,000 premises across Wales were able to access superfast broadband as a result. BT has confirmed it expects to deliver 30Mbps download speeds to around 690,000 premises before the programme closes at the end of December 2017.
‘Whole counties would have no superfast broadband’
“Whole counties such as Gwynedd, Conwy and Anglesey would have no superfast broadband at all without the intervention of Superfast Cymru.
“The most recent Ofcom report showed that Wales has the best superfast broadband availability amongst the devolved nations, with over eight out ten premises with access. This compares with just over half in 2014.
“We are currently consulting on the next stage where we are looking at the final few percent of premises not covered by the Superfast Cymru rollout or by the telecommunications companies’ own plans.
“The consultation is the result of detailed research and includes a list of potential premises without superfast broadband. We would urge those currently without access to take part in this consultation.”
Better overall approach needed
Mike Learmond, FSB North Wales Development Manager, said: “Whilst customers that have benefitted from upgrades to service are seeing the difference, the fact remains that not all businesses are seeing an improved service.
Openreach Engineer laying fibre in a duct as part of BT’s ?2.5bn super-fast broadband programme.
“We need a much better overall approach to digital connectivity which can work to address gaps across networks and providers.
“For example, it is frustrating for businesses that may have access to superfast broadband, but no mobile phone signal or 4G capability when they leave the office.
“Also, now that the infrastructure is in place there is still more work to do to encourage businesses to engage with Superfast Cymru in order to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Fibre broadband.”
Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: “Digital connectivity was once a nice-to-have. It is now essential. And we have come a long way in Wales.
“Thanks to the UK Government’s ?66.9million investment in superfast broadband in Wales, over 645,000 Welsh homes and businesses can now get access to superfast broadband, and an additional 80,000 premises are expected to benefit from this investment by the end of 2017.
“But we need to keep the UK moving with the demands of the digital age.
“Our tremendous progress to date in Wales, coupled with the ?400m funding available through the new Digital Infrastructure Fund will equip Welsh businesses with the tools they need to grow, and Welsh homes with the technology to be part of our online global community.”
From 2018 the Welsh Government will be working on how to reach the final few per cent of premises without access to superfast broadband. So that this work is as accurate as possible it needs to hear from those not yet connected.
A list of potential premises has been published and is open for comments until July 13.
An interactive map can help residents and businesses check if they are already included on the list.
The Welsh Government also wants to hear from communities who have an interest in driving their own solutions. Consultation at https://consultations.gov.wales/consultations/next-generation-access-broadband