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UPDATE Welsh Government Criticised for Delay to NGA Broadband Rollout

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 (9:47 am) - Score 1,270

The Welsh Government’s Superfast Cymru contract with BT, which has been working to roll-out “fibre broadband” (FTTC/P) to 96% of Wales, has been criticised by Assembly Members for failing to deliver on its original promise to bring 30Mbps+ capable networks to all premises by 2015.

Back in 2011 the Welsh Government said they would “seek to ensure that all residential premises and all businesses in Wales will have access to Next Generation Broadband [defined as 30Mbps+] by 2015, with the ambition that 50 per cent or more have access to 100Mbps” (here).

However the eventual contract, which was supported by well over £200m in public funding from local authorities and Broadband Delivery UK, ended up only aiming to deliver 96% coverage of “world class broadband speeds” of ‘up to‘ 80Mbps (this reflected an additional 691,000 premises passed) by the end of 2015 (here).

It’s important to note that the 96% figure also appeared to reflect the raw “fibre” footprint (including sub-30Mbps speeds) rather than 30Mbps+ availability and the contract further required that 40% of all premises in the intervention area could take a 100Mbps service.

In the end BT completed the original BDUK Phase 1 contract during the end of June 2016 (here) and as a result around 90% of Wales can now access a 30Mbps+ capable fixed line broadband connection (note: roughly 30% can get 100Mbps+, albeit mostly via Virgin Media and Openreach’s FTTP). This is as opposed to the 100% that was originally promised in 2015 or even the later 96% figure that was so often touted alongside “superfast broadband” terminology. Overall 610,000 extra premises have befitted.

Russell George, Conservative AM, said (BBC):

It’s undeniable that the Welsh Government have failed to deliver to ensure all residential businesses will have access to next generation broadband by 2015. We are well off providing universal access. Constituents keep asking me why the Welsh Government just can’t let them know when they are getting on with it.”

The comments were echoed by a number of other AMs and some, such as Plaid Cymru’s Dai Lloyd, also appeared to suggest that having a take-up of fewer than one-in-three is a poor outcome. “We need to look at the effectiveness of this campaign to ensure more make use of this technology,” said Dai Lloyd.

At the last count in Q2 2016 the take-up for Wales in related contract areas was 26.4% (here), which is well above the original expectation and has already resulted in clawback / gainshare (public investment) worth around £12.9 million being returned for a future coverage extension. A related consultation on this has already completed (here).

In response, Welsh Labour’s AM Jane Hutt (Vale of Glamorgan), Leader of the House and Chief Whip, succeeded in voting through the following response from the National Assembly for Wales.

Agreed National Assembly Statement

1. Welcomes the progress made in implementing the Superfast Cymru scheme which has brought high-speed broadband to over 610,000 premises across Wales and will provide access for an additional 100,000 further premises before project close in 2017.

2. Notes the progress of Access Broadband Cymru and its predecessor project which have provided broadband to over 6,500 premises across Wales using a range of innovative technologies.

3. Recognises the importance of high speed broadband and digital connectivity to businesses, communities and the economy in all parts of Wales and notes the Programme for Government commitment to offer fast reliable broadband to every property in Wales.

4. Notes the Welsh Government’s intention to:

a) work with Ofcom, the UK Government and network operators, to deliver universal access to high speed broadband and mobile coverage;

b) reform Permitted Development Rights in the planning system to promote telecoms infrastructure investment and network deployment;

c) reflect on the progress made by the Scottish Government through its mobile action in developing proposals in Wales; and

d) publish further information about extending fast reliable broadband access to every property in Wales.

Interestingly the above statement replaced a more critical one that had been tabled by opposition Welsh Conservative AM Paul Davies (Preseli Pembrokeshire), which would have said that the assembly “regrets that the previous Welsh Government failed to deliver on its ambition.” Labour are the dominant party in Wales, thus their more positive statement won the vote.

In the meantime the Welsh Government has already signed an extension contract, which aims to push the coverage of FTTC/P based “fibre broadband” services (they still haven’t clarified a target speed) out to a further 42,000 premises in Wales by June 2017 (here). However some earlier reports have indicated that this might not complete until around October 2017 (here). A further contract is also being developed.

Wales suffers somewhat due to its large swathes of rural landscape, where communities can be small and sparse. As such the country presents a significant technical and economic challenge for operators to upgrade and as work progresses the roll-out pace will surely slow down or become harder to accurately predict.

Never the less the work is on-going and perhaps one day the original ambition will still be achieved, even if that day is likely to come some years later than originally hoped. One other annoying aspect of all this is that for some reason the Welsh Government has scrapped their dedicated Superfast Cymru website and replaced it with a largely useless and vague information page.

UPDATE 3:02pm

The Managing Director of Welsh ISP Spectrum Internet, Giles Phelps, has sent us a comment.

Giles Phelps said:

“I think the Superfast Cymru initiative was a cheap and fast method for improving the speed and coverage of broadband in Wales. As this went through a fairly traditional public sector tender process and there was no real precedent for this type of tender, I don’t think you could have expected a different result unless more time was spent planning and researching the market.

This would have led to significant delays maybe we would only really be starting the upgrade process now. We still don’t have answers for the really hard to reach areas in Wales. The only thing we do know is it will cost a lot more money per premise to provide better speeds to the entire nation.

The important thing is that we now put more effort into making sure everyone has access to the 30Mb/s speed as a minimum and that we make significant inroads into future proofing our infrastructure to enable speeds of 100Mb/s+.

Wireless and other enhanced copper solutions should be looked at as a last resort. We would anticipate that fibre to the premise will cost approximately £1000 – £2000 per premise to install in the more remote areas, however in some cases the costs will be significantly higher. Although in many households that have access to the Superfast Broadband technology they get less than 15Mb/s (many considerably less) download speed and less than 2Mb/s upload speed. That is barely suitable for an average family now and definitely not suitable for a business.

There is no plan to improve the service to these premises unless you are willing to pay up to 10 times more for your broadband service.”

Phelps believes that the Welsh Government could improve things further by tweaking the existing ABC scheme, such as by boosting the amount of grant funding available to allow for FTTP/H solutions and adding more stringent criteria (e.g. symmetric speeds of at least 100Mbps).

Leave a Comment
44 Responses
  1. Avatar TheFacts says:

    Complaints about coverage and when people have it they don’t buy it.

    1. Avatar Diggory says:

      So why is takeup so much higher than BT modelled? People are buying it.

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      Because if the take-up had been correctly modelled, there would have been little or no case for government money.

      We can buy it (VDSL) but it’s too slow.

  2. Avatar Mark says:

    Isn’t this the same issue as applies to the whole of the UK:

    1. DCMS come up with a project that involves pushing out broadband to the least commercially viable areas, those being where government intervention could make them serviceable because commercial operators are not interested, potentially using multiple operators.

    2. After a quick chat with BT, this is reduced to “give all the money to BT”. Exclude technologies which would work for those remote areas, like wireless, and exclude every other supplier resulting in the worst possible negotiating position.

    3. Fail to note that BT’s fixed-line network is the least capable form of tech when it comes to servicing anything that’s not right next to the cabinet with decent speeds. Modify the reporting so that “superfast” is sidelined in favour of “fibre” availability.

    4. “Work with” BT to specify the areas to be done but leaving a fair amount of power to BT to pick and choose which areas they’d like to do with their eye on commerciality. Pretend that there’s some differentiation between “commercial” and “BDUK” roll-out areas where in reality there is none since the same supplier has the entire pot of money.

    5. Do all or most of those, but have no solution whatsoever for the originally intended “hard to reach” areas.

    6. Find that the areas which were always going to be the most tricky remain so, if anything now even more so, and there’s no money left.

    7. Change the project objectives to match the result and claim success while still having no plan for those originally targeted areas.

    1. Avatar Phil Coates says:

      As someone who lives in a ‘hard to reach’ area midway between 2 exchanges 14Km apart, this summary feels exactly right.

  3. Avatar fastman says:

    what complete and Utter rubbish !!! –
    so what about the Open Market Review process
    and also I haven’t seen loads of network operators lining up to build networks

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      Ah, the “Open Market” review process.

      See points 1 and 2 above.

      Fast forward to today. Let’s do another “open market” review.

      Half of a village now has “fibre” though far from all at “superfast speeds”.

      The other half has nothing (0.25Mbps to 2Mbps downstream ADSL, lines over 4km long)

      The number of properties to service is now so small that nobody would build a new network. The commerciality has been reduced even further. A “difficult” area is now impossible.

      Rather than take the overall area in its entirety and listen to smaller operators who could have blanketed it with wireless tech to service everyone. But then we excluded that tech.

      Unsurprisingly, a new open market review will conclude exactly this. Nobody is interested in building a new network for so few people. Even fewer than was the case before.

      So now having reduced the negotiating position to “none at all”, the local authority will have to pay BT whatever BT wants. That’s worked out very nicely for BT.

      It’s like watching a budgie trying to repeatedly escape from a living room by flying into a closed window.

    2. Plenty of areas of Wales with contiguous under 10 Mbps areas that match the pattern of contracts that have gone to Gigaclear in England.

      On the wireless etc, there has been various slow/not spot vouchers/schemes in Wales.

    3. Avatar gerarda says:

      @fastman

      We have been over this ad nauseum.

      Because the dcms modelling changed the requirements from 100% coverage to 95% and suggested FTTC as the preferred technology no one except BT was able to compete.

      A triumph for BT lobbying. A disaster for rural not spots.

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      @gerarda: I have to agree with you. The BDUK process has been a farce, and was geared towards BT from early on. IMHO no public money should have been given to BT in the first place without a proportionate ROI.

      Also a big failure: The lack of public scrutiny, e.g. refusals to disclose BDUK contracts.

    5. Avatar fatman says:

      no OMR came close to 100% — most counties only just got close to 90% !!! in contract 1 and some conties didn’t even get to that

    6. Avatar gerarda says:

      The OMR was never “open” which is why no one else took part.

      I have seen many procurement exercised, both public and private, where the the requirements are designed so as to exclude all except the incumbent or one favoured supplier. The BDUK one is just another example.

  4. Avatar fastman says:

    there used to be some sensible grown up debate on this forum now there is not

    this looks like same person an another different Guise / forum Name

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      Having rebuilt my PC the boxes weren’t pre-populated any more and so I typed in “Mark” instead of the “old” name. I’ve fixed that now.

      With which parts of the above do you disagree?

    2. Avatar fastman says:

      a procurement was open most chose not to participate and even less want to spend any money to build networks !!!!! (its a risky business building infrastructure with long payback) — I don’t see anything any different to that today from what I can see

  5. Avatar TWKND says:

    All the homes around my area are stuck with about up to 20Mbps (I get 22), though most are estimated to get 5-15Mbps.

    Directly across the valley, my friend who’s surrounded by a similar number of houses got FTTP!

    1. Avatar Lee says:

      Stuck with 20meg. However will you live.

    2. Avatar TWKND says:

      That’s not the point, we’re paying the same amount as those who are receiving 80Mbps, sometimes even more due to LLU etc.

    3. Several wholesale FTTC options

      40/2
      40/10
      55/10
      80/20

      (And of limited availability 18/2) all have varying price points. If you have ordered a 80/20 package and only get 22 down, then a downgrade will save you money.

    4. Avatar fastman says:

      TWKND — I hope you never meet anyone who’s got 1 meg — so in that case you think you should pay more than the person whos gets only 1 meg then

    5. Avatar TWKND says:

      People should pay full price of they get full speed, and get a certain discount for however far they are below their package speed.

    6. So people are forced to pay more if they by luck get more speed?

      Don’t see that selling well with the wider public, e.g. those closer to cabinets.

      Only way it would survive legally would be if a range of product speeds were produced e.g. wholesale pricing of

      VDSL2
      5/1 £7.50/m
      10/1 £8/
      20/2 £8.50/m
      30/4 £8.75/m
      40/10 £9.25/m
      55/10 £9.75/m
      76/20 £10.75/m

      Plus the fixed line rental costs which run at around £8-9/m

      Why so little variation, because a slow customer is utilising a VDSL2 port i.e. identical costs to someone getting a faster speed.

      Retail level will add more variation as it does today, since they have to factor in bandwidth consumption.

    7. Avatar Gadget says:

      Nothing to stop any ISP offering a product similar to what Andrew has described to customers but so far no-one thinks they can make money out of it otherwise the options would be out there in the market.

    8. Avatar DTMark says:

      I suspect that, when BT realises that offering multiple speed tiers actually loses them money as people downgrade to what their line is capable of, more often than they upgrade, that those speed tiers will be dropped in favour of a single price.

  6. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    While BT’s foot print may cover 90%+ of the UK it’s capacity in all the FTTC cabs is NOT 90%+.

    That’s why so many people cannot get FTTC and no foreseeable improvement for a long while yet.

    1. Looked into this after people moaned about the thinkbroadband figures, and while a few cabinets end up waiting months for capacity upgrades, most seem to be fairly short.

      At anyone time around 1 to 2% of premises are not able to order due to capacity issues. So overall while very annoying for those affected its not a major impacter on the overall figures.

    2. Avatar DTMark says:

      What guarantees and assurances were gained from BT in these scenarios, given that this limitation would have been known at the inception of the contracts?

      Provided that a guarantee (or else a penalty is levied) that additional capacity will be added within a certain period of time and that this is not at BT’s discretion (for example, not to add more capacity), fulfilled within maybe a couple of weeks, then this would seem fairly acceptable.

      How you force another cabinet onto a pavement that has a VM head-end, a VM cab, a BT cab and a BT VDSL cab next to each other already (Basingstoke, Hants?) is a mystery but I’m sure someone will have thought of this..

    3. While I know some people have waited many months, have not had an instance reported of a cabinet where capacity has never been expanded.

      Remember if a second cab is needed it could be 50m from existing PCP if needed.

      Cabinets go over to being same conditions as commercial ones with regards to expansion.

    4. Avatar DTMark says:

      “Cabinets go over to being same conditions as commercial ones with regards to expansion.”

      Er, hang on a minute. The project was to provide a certain level of availability of services at certain speeds in “intervention areas”. Not to provide them to the home without demand, but, to make such services available if and when demanded.

      Are we saying that BT are not obligated to fulfil even that?

      Have invoices been paid for work completed when it has yet to be completed and may never be?

    5. To DTMark…

      Projects had the option of I presume of ordering cabinets with the full compliment of line cards, and 2 VDSL2 cabs for larger areas if they wanted.

      As things stand Openreach adds capacity as and when required, if not someone complaining over the capacity issue will be able to produce a list of cabinets where capacity expansion has been refused.

    6. Avatar DTMark says:

      The reason for the refusal to release the full contracts to the public, and why the ones that were released were partially redacted, is becoming clearer by the day.

    7. Avatar TheFacts says:

      @DTM – looking forward to seeing the contracts on this? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37861162

  7. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

    @Andrew Ferguson

    Are you saying that 90%+ of the UK can order A FTTC connection tomorrow and expect it to be provided. I don’t think so.

    1. I was not, and I’ll chop my left hand off if 90% of UK households were to order a FTTC service on Friday 3rd November 2016.

      Take-up is far from universal, but take-up rates are such that generally cabinets see a capacity upgrade in a couple of months so that more can order in an area when a capacity issue its.

      Or am I missing the millions of emails from people who cannot order, because Openreach refuse to add capacity?

    2. Avatar Sledgehammer says:

      Well Andrew take my cab 38 in Wallasey the new FTTC has been there for about 2 years 10 months and looks likely to be stuck on another 4/6 month wait until BT/OR decide to get electricity and Fibre cable installed if ever. This is why I have very little faith in BT quotes. It could come about that VM might install there service before BT. Now that would be a surprise.
      p.s Friday 4th November 2016.

    3. The LVWAL 38 is irrelevant to any discussions of capacity since the cabinet has never been live.

      That cabinet has obviously had a fibre or power supply issue.

  8. Avatar fastman says:

    sliedge so why is our cab stuck assume its a commercial cab funded out of BT’s own investment and not BDUk funded ?– !!!! the reason that could be are a number of reasons extensive powers (sometimes 15/25k form power !!!!) major issue in ducts
    actually more important cabs to deliver that have penalties against them

    1. Avatar DTMark says:

      Er… 2 years, 10 months..

      It’s a good job it’s privatised and not in State hands, or it would take ages..

      😉

  9. Avatar fatman says:

    Dt mark – its a businesses decision to spends it money where it gets the best return for it (not a cab funded by any public money or by any other monies), there were either issue with that cab that broke the commercial model, which could have had it removed, or shelved seems to have been the latter)

    1. Avatar fatman says:

      fastman can spell this evening

    2. Avatar fatman says:

      fastman can’t spell this evening — needs a coffee fix

    3. Avatar DTMark says:

      See above

      4. “Work with” BT to specify the areas to be done but leaving a fair amount of power to BT to pick and choose which areas they’d like to do with their eye on commerciality. Pretend that there’s some differentiation between “commercial” and “BDUK” roll-out areas where in reality there is none since the same supplier has the entire pot of money.

    4. Avatar fatman says:

      Dt mark — assume that cab is commercial so its had to waits its turn as there no funding as tis been badged as commercial

  10. Avatar fatman says:

    Fastman cant spell this evening

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