The Welsh Government‘s new Access Broadband Cymru (ABC) scheme, which provides grants of up to £1,000 per premise in areas which have “slow broadband connections” (i.e. sub-2Mbps), has been criticised for a potential cock-up in its eligibility criteria that could prevent thousands of legitimate applicants from applying.
The new initiative, which replaces the almost identical Broadband Support Scheme (here), went live on Tuesday. But unlike BSS the new ABC solution is intended to complement the wider Superfast Cymru project and will thus only be usable in areas where BT’s related fibre broadband (FTTC/P) rollout won’t cover.
The official ABC Eligibility Criteria (PDF) document, which has now become available, similarly states that the applicants home “must not be in the published roll-out for Superfast Cymru“, which is fair. But a problem only becomes apparent when you take a closer look at ABC’s FAQ page and realise that Superfast Cymru coverage is defined at the Telephone Exchange level:
Question: I have checked the Superfast Cymru website and my exchange is listed as Accepting Orders (AO), can I still apply?
Answer: If your exchange is listed as ‘Accepting Orders’ or ‘Future Exchanges’ then you would not be eligible for support as Superfast Cymru is either already in your area or coming very soon.
Sadly the coverage expectation for BT’s dominant Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service is significantly less reliable when viewed at the telephone exchange rather than street cabinet level. This is because not everybody within an enabled exchange area will be covered by FTTC once the service goes live as this is entirely dependent upon distance from the street cabinet (i.e. the “last mile” style run of copper wire and VDSL2 from the cabinet and into homes).
It’s extremely difficult to imagine that BT would be able to reach 100% of every single home and business connected to its FTTC enabled exchanges, especially with the overall target in wales being 96%. Some homes would simply reside too far away from an FTTC street cabinet in order to receive the minimum speed of 2Mbps and not all cabinets will get upgraded under the current funding.
In order to be effective ABC would need to be based on coverage that goes to at least the street level and factors coverage from the cabinet. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case. We have asked the Welsh Government for a clarification on this approach and are awaiting their reply.
In fairness the Welsh Government might simply deem it easier to do it this way than use cabinet coverage (admin wise), which is also data that BT generally prefers not to give out. After all, 96% is only 4% away from 100% right? So what’s the harm? But that’s cold comfort if you’re one of the few who end up being stuck in the middle with sub-2Mbps speeds.
Credits to Wispa Limited’s often outspoken COO, Richard Brown, for bringing this to ISPreview.co.uk’s attention.