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Welsh Broadband Grants Struck by Delays Due to Overlapping Schemes

Wednesday, Nov 20th, 2013 (4:53 pm) - Score 476
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The Welsh Government are reportedly rejecting individual requests for funding under the revamped Access Broadband Cymru (ABC) scheme because of uncertainty over the expected coverage of the country’s wider superfast broadband roll-out with BT.

The smaller ABC scheme, which is designed to help fund the installation of a new broadband connection (usually via a fixed wireless or Satellite solution) in areas which suffer from “slow broadband connections” (i.e. sub-2Mbps), provides grants worth up to £1,000 per premise; it also replaces the almost identical Broadband Support Scheme (BBS).

The key difference between ABC and BBS is that ABC 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) roll-out won’t cover. The Superfast Cymru project aims to make BT’s “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) network available to 96% of Welsh premises by around the end of 2015.

The problem is that nobody can be completely sure where that final 4% will be until after Superfast Cymru has completed its deployment (roll-outs like this are dynamic and often change positively or negatively due to events on the ground), which is made extra difficult because BT are keeping their broadband speed and coverage templates (SCT) under lock and key for reasons of “commercial sensitivity“. On top of that the Welsh Government will also be hoping for a slice of an extra £250m that has recently been allocated by Westminster, which only adds further uncertainty until the best way to spend it has been decided.

If all that wasn’t bad enough then the eligibility criteria for ABC recently hit the news after it was revealed to be based upon telephone exchange rather than street cabinet coverage (here), which is a rather significant consideration for FTTC (i.e. enabled cabinets determine the local coverage). All of these issues are important because State Aid Rules prevent public money being used to overbuild an existing superfast network and furthermore nobody wants to duplicate the investment.

Chris Statham, ACL Telco, said (Daily Post):

[The Welsh Government] are saying that if you live in an area where the fibre optic broadband is coming you are now not eligible. The problem with this is the blanket nature of what they are saying, these decisions are easy to make on a map back in the office but they need to come out here and see the reality.

They need to see how far some properties are from the exchanges and cabs and the routes the lines have to cross.”

It’s easy to understand why politicians would rather stick on the BT side of the fence and avoid taking any risks with smaller alternatives or breaking EU state aid rules. On the other hand this seems like a problem that could be solved if competent and independent telecoms minded people were tasked with finding a solution. Instead what we have is a mess of bureaucracy that risks inhibiting innovation and delaying better connectivity for rural areas.

The situation will no doubt sound very familiar to those that have been reading about the on-going £20m Rural Community Broadband Fund (RCBF) fiasco, which has prevented many smaller altnet ISP projects in rural areas from securing funding due to a lack of clarity over precisely which areas will or won’t be covered by the Government’s primary Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) scheme with BT.

Meanwhile, back in Wales, the local government is currently mooting whether to launch a third Open Market Review in order to determine the extent of commercial Superfast Broadband availability, which follows concerns that initial predictions might have underestimated the expected pre-BDUK coverage of BT’s £2.5bn FTTC/P roll-out (here).

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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