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.”
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)