The Welsh Government (WG) has now “officially started work” on the national roll-out of its £425m scheme to make superfast broadband speeds of at least 30Mbps (Megabits per second) available to 96% of homes and businesses in Wales (United Kingdom) by the end of 2015. But many details remain unknown.
The original contract was signed with BT during July 2012 and the operator, which will foot roughly half the bill (UK/Welsh state aid of £114.9m and EU funding of £90m makes up the rest), expects to begin its work in the following 14 unitary authorities during 2013 and 2014. The remaining authorities will join the project between 2014 and 2015.
Initial Roll-Out (14 Unitary Authorities)
Isle of Anglesey
Neath Port Talbot
Rhondda Cynon Taff
Vale of Glamorgan
Ofcom’s most recent data (2012 Infrastructure Report) found that approximately 15% of Welsh internet connections deliver download speeds of less than 2Mbps, which is an improvement from the 19% recorded during 2011.
In addition just 37% of premises are currently able to receive a superfast broadband service (up from 34% in 2011) and that’s largely concentrated in urban areas (the majority of wales is geographically rural).
So far just 3.9% of those able to receive a superfast service have adopted it. Snsurprisingly Wales also has the lowest average broadband “sync” speed of 9.9Mbps (note: this is a more optimistic estimate than real-world performance). Suffice to say that BT has a lot of work to do.
Edwina Hart, Welsh Business Minister, said:
“The Superfast Cymru programme is set to transform the broadband landscape in Wales and to promote economic growth and sustainable jobs in Wales. It will ensure we are at the forefront of the global digital economy and help to champion Wales as a great place to live, work, invest and visit.
State aid approval has now been granted by the UK Government, allowing us to complete the Major Project Notification process to secure European Regional Development Fund structural funding worth £80 million. Our project partner BT has now also officially started work on the roll-out of the programme.
BT had already made considerable progress to prepare for the programme, including engagement with planning and highways authorities across Wales. A roll-out plan has been prepared which takes into account the local demographics and cartography of Wales, together with the Welsh Government’s economic priorities, including the Enterprise Zones and the Powys local growth zone.”
Wales ultimately aims to go beyond the 96% figure and match Europe’s target of 100% coverage by 2020 (all businesses should receive speeds of 30Mbps+ a little earlier by 2016), although a clear and area-specific roll-out plan is still missing from the strategy. Never the less Q4-2015 is only just under three years away.
It should be noted that the figure of £425m appears to include some existing spend, such as the Welsh investment from BT’s £2.5bn commercial roll-out that should perhaps have been kept separate. Meanwhile the Welsh Government last year setup a sparse information page for those seeking more details.