The Welsh Government’s semi-popular £4m Broadband Support Scheme, which provided cash grants worth up to £1,000 to help those living in the most digitally isolated parts of Wales (UK) gain access to faster internet services, will come to a close on 31st March 2013.
The scheme, which was originally launched in July 2010 and has often been accused of being poorly promoted (many people weren’t even aware that it existed), essentially offered grants worth a maximum of £1,000 to homes and businesses in parts of Wales where either no broadband (“notspots“) or only sub-2Mbps (Megabits per second) speeds were available.
Since then BT has been awarded a £425m contract (Next Generation Broadband Wales) to enable 96% of Welsh homes and businesses to have access to “world class broadband speeds” of up to 80Mbps (FTTC) by the end of 2015, which means that a different solution to help the last 4% must now be devised.
A Welsh Government Spokeswoman said (Denbighshire Free Press):
“Work has already started on the roll-out of the £425m Superfast Cymru programme to deliver fibre broadband to parts of the country not covered by commercial plans. It will ensure Wales has access to broadband speeds of up to 80Mbps and help the Welsh Government reach 96 per cent of Welsh homes and businesses.
More information on a new scheme to help the four per cent hardest-to-reach properties will be available in the spring. As a consequence, the Broadband Support
Scheme will close on March 31.”
The move could have a serious impact on wireless network operators, such as the TFL-Group and eXwavia, which have made use of the grants to help cover the expensive cost of installing new networks into remote rural villages.
At the time of writing it’s not clear what the replacement scheme will look like, although the Welsh Government’s Digital Wales Strategy ultimately envisages a roll-out of 30Mbps+ capable superfast broadband ISP services to reach 100% of the country’s businesses by the middle of 2016 and homes by 2020.
A related article in the Daily Post has revealed more information about the BSS. Apparently the scheme ended up being supporting by £4m of public funding and it successfully issued grants to 4,066 of the 4,869 people who requested funding between 2010/11 and 2012/13 (i.e. around 800 were rejected).
One reason for the rejections could be that the BSS sent letters that gave just 14 days to accept the grant, which often arrived several days after being sent. On top of that the letters allegedly arrived with no return address, although clearly the majority had no problem with this.
As it stands today the BSS claims that its budget has now been “fully committed”. Hopefully the replacement scheme will do a better job.