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UPD Wales Making “reasonable progress” on BT Fibre Broadband Rollout

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 (9:54 am) - Score 1,087

The Wales Audit Office (WAO) has today posted its report on the progress of the Superfast Cymru project, which is working with BT to make “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) connectivity available to 96% of Wales by the end of 2016. On the whole progress is described as “reasonable“, but several problems have been identified (e.g. the 100Mbps speed target for 40%).

The project, which is supported by public funding worth £205 million (£56,930,000 from the central Government’s Broadband Delivery UK programme), has already helped to make the service available to an extra 425,000 Welsh homes and businesses and by completion it should have expanded to 691,000. Including commercial deployments this means that around 1.1 million premises in Wales are now within reach of BT’s “fibre broadband” network.

However the Welsh Government have always been coy concerning precisely what proportion can expect to actually receive so-called “superfast” download speeds of 24Mbps+, although a leak of the original contract in 2013 did offer some context with respect to performance in the “intervention area” alone (here) and today’s report reflects this.

The Contract Agreement (Speed Targets)

* A minimum of 90 per cent of all premises in the intervention area should be capable of having access to speeds of at least 30Mbps;
* A minimum of 95 per cent of all premises in the intervention area should be capable of having access to speeds of at least 24Mbps; and
* A minimum of 40 per cent of all premises in the intervention area should be capable of having access to speeds of at least 100Mbps.

The new report also confirms BT’s contribution, which is important because the project’s original £425m total actually included their commercial investment and this somewhat confused the figures. In reality BT contributed just £26m of capital funding to the scheme, although outside of the agreement BT were also investing an estimated £19m of capital expenditure and £82m of operational expenditure up to 2023. In addition, the EU has committed up to £90m and the Welsh Government matched BDUK with £58m.

But anybody hoping for a shocking revelation or two will be disappointing by today’s report, which overall finds that Superfast Cymru has made “reasonable progress“. The report also said that the “procurement and management of the [contract] has been generally effective, with appropriate controls in place to manage costs and delivery.” According to the Welsh Government, related next generation broadband services have now become available to 70% of premises in Wales (Dec 2014) and rising.

Never the less the report did make a number of recommendations to help improve the scheme, not least with regardless to encouraging better promotion of the services availability and holding BT to account over its target of ensuring that 40% of premises in the “intervention area” can access ultrafast speeds of 100Mbps. The dominant FTTC connectivity can only deliver “up to” 80Mbps and even with vectoring enabled the 40% target might still be tricky to achieve by the end of 2016 (plus there’s not enough FTTP going in to deliver it either).

WAO’s Superfast Cymru Recommendations

1. The Superfast Cymru contract includes £1.7 million for marketing and publicity activities, which the Welsh Government reviewed in June 2014 resulting in an increased focus on households and improvements to the Superfast Cymru website. As part of its marketing plan, the Welsh Government should continue to review its marketing activities, assess and monitor awareness of next generation broadband and identify whether businesses and residents are content with the level of information they receive on the status of next generation broadband rollout for their premises.

2. There were only 325 premises able to access next generation broadband with download speeds of 100Mbps by the end of December 2014. The Welsh Government needs to ensure BT has appropriate, detailed and robust plans in place as to how it will achieve the target of 40 per cent of premises capable of receiving speeds of 100 Mbps.

3. The Welsh Government has not yet set any targets for the actual take-up of next generation broadband for either business or domestic premises. The Welsh Government should thus:

• Set an aspirational target(s) for the take-up of next generation broadband to lend focus to efforts to encourage take-up;
• Collect information to demonstrate how businesses and the general public are using next generation broadband; and
• Work with relevant stakeholders to ensure appropriate measures are in place to allow benchmarking with other countries.

4. Access Broadband Cymru provides grants of up to £1,000 for faster broadband installation in areas where broadband speeds are less than 2Mbps. However, up to February 2015, the Welsh Government had given funding for 340 installations. The Welsh Government should review the Access Broadband Cymru operation, including its communication of the scheme, to assess whether it is working as planned and if the scheme is still providing benefits.

5. There are currently no specific benefit exploitation activities planned for households and as such the Welsh Government should:

• Develop a benefits management strategy or plan for the wider benefits of the Superfast Cymru project and its other next generation broadband interventions for households, businesses and the public sector;
• Make provision within the strategy or plan for a review to assess the delivery of the anticipated direct and indirect benefits at the end of the Superfast Cymru implementation phase (such as a Gateway 5 Review); and
• Repeat the review at regular intervals after the implementation phase is complete.

The remaining recommendations were nothing special, focusing on general management issues and even a call for the Welsh Government to share what it has learned through the process with other Local Authorities.

Otherwise it should be remembered that the current targets only reflect the first phase of Broadband Delivery UK based funding and more recently another £12,110,000 has been allocated by BDUK as part of the wider Superfast Extension Programme, which seeks to ensure that 95% of premises have access to speeds of 24Mbps+ by 2017/18.

The Welsh Government is currently still discussing the details of precisely what kind of improvement this will convert into for Wales.

UPDATE 10:37am

The report also states that the average public sector cost per premises in Wales is £297 and this “sits within the range of costs from across the other UK projects, but is higher than the UK average of £240” (Wales is more rural etc.). As part of that we also extracted this interesting map.

bduk_cost_per_premises_passed_uk_map

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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