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UPD Inquiry Calls on Welsh Broadband Strategy to Focus on Rural Areas First

Monday, September 17th, 2012 (1:21 pm) - Score 320

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has today published the result of its investigation into the woeful coverage of broadband services in Wales. The inquiry warned that “too much focus” had been placed on the roll-out of “super-fast” services and that this came at the expense of 90,000 homes in Wales that still have no broadband access.

The Welsh Government’s current £425 million Digital Wales strategy aims to roll-out 30Mbps+ services to reach 100% of the country’s businesses by the middle of 2016 and homes by 2020, which is roughly in-line with Europe. BT, which now holds the related contract (full details), has since said that it could reach 96% of Welsh premises with “world class broadband speeds” of up to 80Mbps (FTTC) by the end of 2015.

The select committee today added that both the UK and Welsh government’s would “deserve great credit” if they achieve these “extremely ambitious” goals, yet they firmly criticised related Local Broadband Plan approvals for being “behind schedule” and called for the new networks to be “implemented without delay“. Furthermore the report warned that rural and isolated areas should be tackled as a priority.

Welsh Affairs Select Committee Statement

We are concerned that too much focus may have been placed on the roll-out of superfast broadband at the expense of ensuring that the needs of those without any broadband service at all are met. The first priority must be to ensure that the needs of the approximately 90,000 homes in Wales which currently do not have access to broadband are addressed as soon as possible. The Government’s ambitions for superfast broadband must not be at the expense of delivering a good broadband service for all.

We are concerned that the Welsh Government’s scheme appears already to be behind schedule. The contract for the provider of the scheme was awarded some four months after the planned date. Any further delay to the programme will put the Government’s timetable in jeopardy.

The report also appeared to support new plans that could “fast-track” the roll-out of superfast broadband services around the country by resolving “unnecessary bureaucracy” in the current planning system (details). However the committee remains concerned about how BT’s contract win meant that it was able to exercise “significant market power in the provision of fixed broadband services in Wales” and called for Ofcom to ensure that the operator is “regulated effectively“.

One particular area of worry was the cost of access to BT’s cable ducts and poles (PIA). The report said that Ofcom had not yet “gone far enough in ensuring access is available at a reasonable cost” and urged the regulator to do more.

Finally the report suggested that Satellite broadband was “very persuasive” as a potential solution to coverage in the most remote areas, where neither a fixed line nor mobile broadband connection could reach.

The committee recommend that Ofcom undertake a study to evaluate whether satellite should be supported more vigorously in Wales (it currently has limited support via the Broadband Support Scheme). However it also claimed to have “received conflicting evidence regarding the performance and cost of satellite broadband” services (e.g. high latency, smaller usage allowances, aggressive traffic throttling etc.)

Welsh Affairs Committee – First Report (Broadband services in Wales)
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmwelaf/580/58002.htm

UPDATE 2:24pm

Comment from the boss of Welsh ISP eXwavia.

Annette Burgess, MD of eXwavia, said:

I agree that Wales as a whole has an urgent need for a universal broadband service for social and economic reasons. However, there is not a threat that Wales will fall behind the rest of the UK and the world; it already has. I believe the longer we leave the resolution the longer it will take to catch up, let alone aspire to be better.

Our policy makers and leaders need to focus on the outcomes of broadband delivery, not the technology. Effectively, in order to achieve a collective service we are going to have to deploy a combination of complementary technologies – finding the right technology to achieve the right outcome in each geographical area.

With BT’s involvement and deployment of smart technology choices, we can deliver next generation broadband now, not just provide a sticking plaster on the issue. We need suitable, joined up broadband networks that are sustainable, robust and future proofed. All we need to do is to focus on the outcome, and that’s people being able to use a reliable broadband service, regardless of where they are in Wales.”

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar Michael says:

    It is a pity that some facts are skirted over in this debate

    1 Satellite broadband has almost a 100 percent coverage in Wales up to 10Mbps
    2 Some of the quoted statistics are already out of date due to the rate the market has moved during 2012
    3 FTTC and Virgin Media cable solutions still by definition do not offer the customer a fibre service it is copper or coax
    4 Business customers have always been able to buy symmetrical fibre services in Wales if they can afford it but it is never really understood in the debate

    If State Aid is resolved and the NGA build commences then it will have a positive impact not only directly but in supporting wireless and 4G roll out as the market economics for backhaul to small cell sites kick in.

    Shame that the whole picture is not really understood.

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