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
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.”