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Changes Coming for Struggling Broadband Voucher Schemes in Wales

Monday, January 30th, 2017 (8:45 am) - Score 997
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The Welsh Government has revealed that the uptake of their two broadband voucher schemes, which are designed to help businesses and rural homes gain access to a faster connection, has been fairly small and as a result some tweaks may be required in order to boost uptake.

At present Wales is home to two voucher schemes – Access Broadband Cymru (ABC) and Ultrafast Connectivity Vouchers (UCV) – and these were revised in January 2016 (details). The ABC scheme offers vouchers to homes in areas that aren’t currently planned to benefit from the Superfast Cymru project with BT and which don’t have access to a “superfast connection” speed of 30Mbps+.

Meanwhile UCV provides assistance (worth up to £10,000) towards the capital costs of helping businesses in Wales to install an “ultrafast” service offering speeds of 100Mbps+ (30Mbps upload), which requires that related firms exist in an area where speeds of 100Mbps+ cannot currently be achieved via an existing network.

ABC

The Access Broadband Cymru scheme funds (or part-funds) the installation costs of new broadband connections for homes and businesses in Wales. There are 2 levels of funding available depending on the needs of the consumer and the speed required, £400 for download speeds between 10 and 20 Mbps, and £800 for download speeds of 30Mbps and above.

UCV

The maximum grant available is £10,000. It will provide 100 per cent funding for the first £3,000 and 50 per cent between £3,000 and £17,000. The business will be expected to match fund the remaining 50% and any further costs over £17,000.

Since being revised in Jan 2016 the ABC scheme has only attracted a total of 722 applications and just 128 of those have been approved (installations completed), with 302 receiving offers of funding. “Common reasons for not continuing with an application are that superfast broadband has become available or that there has been an uplift in their traditional broadband speed,” said the Welsh Government last week.

The ABC scheme tends to support connection technology solutions like 4G (Mobile Broadband), Satellite and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA). However 4G coverage and performance is still weak in many parts of rural Wales, while FWA ISPs only exist in some areas and Satellite is not a hugely popular choice, not least due to its limited usage allowances and high latency.

However the Welsh Government has promised to continue the ABC scheme with a further £1.5 millionover the next two years to ensure that this vital lifeline operates in parallel to Superfast Cymru and successor projects,” with equivalent funding being put in place to extend for a further two years beyond 2018.

The story for uptake under the UCV scheme is considerably worse. Since the scheme started just 50 applications have been received, of which 8 have been approved and a further 12 offers of funding made. The staggeringly low uptake is perhaps a reflection of the awkward positioning of the vouchers, which tend to favour more expensive leased lines or FoD (FTTP on Demand) style services.

The problem is that not every business requires that sort of connectivity and the on-going rental charges can also be a significant factor (particularly for smaller organisations). “Some businesses have indicated that they do not need the speeds stipulated by the scheme, and that the cost of the leased line that accompanies the speeds is prohibitive,” said the Welsh Government.

As a result the “ultrafast” scheme is about to be reviewed and the Welsh Government has said that they will consider introducing different levels of upload and download speeds, which might allow a wider selection of connection technologies to become viable. We’d expect an approach like the ABC scheme, with different funding available for different levels of speed.

Mind you one area that the Welsh Government appears to overlook is advertising and if looking to improve uptake then this is one avenue that might be worth pursuing. ABC has been around for awhile and so is more familiar, but we’ve seen very little promotion of UCV and it wouldn’t surprise us if many businesses had no idea that it even existed. Credits to Thinkbroadband for pointing us to the report.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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1 Response
  1. We are on UCV and any quotes generated on our system for 100Mb or above in Wales include a notification of the vouched scheme. I agree that the 100Mb minimum speed narrows the uptake to the larger businesses and would welcome some lower bands.

    The potentially valuable role of UCV is to assist with the ECC (Excess Construction Charges). The voucher will cover 100% of the first £3K then 50% of the next £14K. Taking £10K ECC as an example the voucher would cover £6.5K leaving the end user to pay the balance of £3.5K + the rental of c.£4.5K p.a. Definitely not one for the smaller SME.

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