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Wales Could Unveil New Superfast Broadband Rollout Plan Next Week

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018 (5:25 pm) - Score 1,119
wales uk future

The Welsh Government (WG) has suggested that it will next week publish information on new rollout plan for “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) services, which could set out their strategy for extending related networks to cover the whole of Wales (benefiting approximately 98,145 additional premises).

At present fibre-based broadband services are already estimated to cover approximately 97% of premises (homes and businesses), yet networks that can deliver speeds of 30Mbps+ are only available to around 93-94% (here). Much of this delivery has been supported by around £225m of public funding via the Superfast Cymru project with Openreach (BT), which has been rolling out a mix of FTTC and some ultrafast FTTP.

Unfortunately this means that Wales finds itself running a smidgen behind the wider 95%+ coverage aspiration for “superfast broadband.” In response a number of Assembly Members (AMs) have already put the blame for this squarely at Openreach’s feet (example), although in fairness the operator has faced plenty of difficult issues (e.g. problems with securing access to land via wayleave agreements).

The original contract is now coming to an end and meanwhile the WG has been busy working on a new programme to follow it, which in 2016 proposed to put £80 million of public funding toward extending “fast reliable broadband” (defined as 30Mbps+) to “every property” in Wales by 2020 (here and here).

Provisional £80m Funding Breakdown

* £20m committed in the recent Welsh Government budget over the next 3-4 years.

* £20m from European structural funds, subject to WEFO approval.

* £37m from gain-share as a result of take-up of superfast broadband (i.e. public money returned by BT due to clawback).

* £2m outstanding commitment from UK government towards the new superfast broadband project.

Today the WG confirmed that their plan for the new project would be unveiled next week.

Julie James AM, Leader of the House and Chief Whip, said:

“I intend to carry out a procurement exercise shortly, with a view to the new project starting in spring this year. I’ll be making a statement later this month to set out more detail about the new scheme.

We won’t know for a number of weeks yet whether the contract was completely fulfilled, but we have good indications that they did very well, and we’re very hopeful that they did in fact fulfil the contract.

I will be making an announcement early next week, so I’m going to avoid the temptation to steal my own thunder by pre-announcing it, but we are very aware of the predicament of communities who’ve been left there, and of the number of people who were promised superfast under the first scheme and who fell off the end for various reasons.

We very much have those people in mind when we’re looking at the announcements that I’m hoping to make early next week, as it happens.”

The existing commitment of £80m equates to roughly £816 per property and we assume that this will end up being supported by match-funding from other sources, such as the private sector. Nevertheless there will be quite a few premises in Wales that cost considerably more to reach and this raises the question of whether enough funding exists to complete the work (reaching remote rural areas tends to be disproportionately more expensive).

Naturally a shortage of funding could result in the WG adopting cheaper solutions, such as inferior Satellite connectivity, to reach some of the most remote premises and we may also see a greater acceptance of fixed wireless broadband platforms. All of this may be good news for smaller alternative network (altnet) providers but we’ll have to wait and see how flexible the plan is.

On top of that there’s still a lot of uncertainty around the UK Government’s final approach toward its proposed 10Mbps+ Universal Service Obligation (USO), which could have an impact upon proposed projects like the one in Wales and Scotland.

The project in Wales has actually made some impressive progress over the past few years, particularly given some of the challenges involved with reaching the more remote and sparse rural communities. Nevertheless this will be of little consolation to those who have spent the past decade stuck in the broadband slow lane and they’ll be watching next week’s announcement for an answer.

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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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10 Responses
  1. Avatar Reflection

    Actually, what Julie James AM said is slight different. Some key bits she said today are:

    “I intend to carry out a procurement exercise shortly, with a view to the new project starting in spring this year. I’ll be making a statement later this month to set out more detail about the new scheme.”

    “We won’t know for a number of weeks yet whether the contract was completely fulfilled, but we have good indications that they did very well, and we’re very hopeful that they did in fact fulfil the contract.”

    “I will be making an announcement early next week, so I’m going to avoid the temptation to steal my own thunder by pre-announcing it, but we are very aware of the predicament of communities who’ve been left there, and of the number of people who were promised superfast under the first scheme and who fell off the end for various reasons. We very much have those people in mind when we’re looking at the announcements that I’m hoping to make early next week, as it happens.”

    Angela Burns AM had this to say:

    “Please don’t pay BT for Princes Gate. During the time I’ve been told on numerous occasions that Princes Gate will get fast broadband. In fact, last year, the head of Superfast Cymru—I won’t name him—wrote and told me that a second pass would see Princes Gate be upgraded to superfast broadband by the autumn of 2017. The response from the leader of Openreach:

    ‘The infrastructure serving your community forms part of a programme we were running which ended on Sunday 31 December 2017. This is a hard stop’ we’re not doing anymore.

    And it’s not just Princes Gate. Cynwyl Elfed, Hermon, Lawrenny, Martletwy, bits of Pembroke—they’ve all got this. They had the promise, they were told categorically—and Llanpumsaint—they were going to get it, and now they’re not. I don’t actually hold you personally responsible, Minister, because I know that you really believe in the delivery of this, but I would like you to talk fairly strongly to BT and to Openreach. They cannot make promises to people and then just basically say, ‘Tough luck. It’s finished. Too bad’, because these people have lives to live, businesses to run, kids to educate. Broadband, superfast, is today’s universal provision we all need, and I fail to see why my constituency should be so disadvantaged.”

    And this is part what Russell George AM had to say:

    “I have to say, from a communications point of view, the Superfast Cymru project has been an absolute disaster. I have to say that there are plenty of examples of you writing letters to people, or them writing to you, asking, ‘When am I going to be in scope?’ You then write back and say it’s going to be by a certain date. They don’t get it, they write back to you, you write back and say, ‘Sorry about that, it’s now going to be this date.’ They don’t get it by that date, they write back to you, you write back again and say, ‘Sorry about that, it’s now going to be by 31 December 2017.’ In January, they don’t get it, they write back to you, then you write back and say, ‘Sorry, the project’s ended.’ Well, that really is not good enough and that’s what’s been happening. So, can I ask you, what lessons have you learnt from this contract for designing the next, especially when it comes to communications?”

    http://record.assembly.wales/Plenary/4899#A40864

  2. Avatar ASH

    Can we please stop calling 30mbps+ “superfast broadband” Because it’s not. I had faster internet than that in 2005, Superfast should be 750mbps+ ultra fast should be 1gbps+

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @ASH – No. And it’s 30Mbps.

    • Avatar CarlT

      No. That’s the European Union definition and the one Ofcom are using. If you had faster in 2005 good for you, I know people who were on a gigabit a decade ago, doesn’t have any bearing on what ‘superfast’ is defined as.

  3. Avatar Reflection

    Yes, it is clearly a large and complex project. One cannot dispute that there have been some challenges that Openreach have had to overcome. However, that is no mitigation for providing people with dubious information.

    For example, on 10 November 2017, my MP forwarded this response from Openreach in relation to the Boncath exchange area:

    “I’ve been in touch with our project manager responsible for fibre roll out in this area …. The good news is that barring any unforeseen issues we hope to have the work completed by the end of November.” It was only on 24 November they only started work re-engineering a jointing chamber and running a new conduit from it across the main road (something that should have been know about since at least the previous January). Then there were all the cabling/tubing that had not yet been pulled trough to post; the already pulled tubing not yet run up posts to manifolds; the incomplete fitting of fibre splitters.

    Then, on 12 December 2017, my AM forwarded this response from Openreach:

    “I’ve been in touch with our project manager for the latest information. He’s advised me there’s still some work that needs to take place to install the fibre network, but we’re currently looking to have this completed, and the area ready to accept orders by early January, (hopefully a bit sooner).”

    On the 15 December 2017 (just 3 days later), the Openreach checker had suddenly changed the rollout from ‘Build’ to ‘In Scope’ (on 20 January 2018, it suddenly changed to ‘Exploring’).

    These responses seem to require stretching credibility too far. There was just no sign of enough effort to complete the work; it had been like that for months.

    So in fairness to all the people, in properties that have just been dropped from the project, I think it could be better recognised why they might have cause for frustration and complaint.

  4. Avatar Tim

    Why is it that the Welsh and Scotish get all the funding! Nothing ever happens in the South East. Kent is so far behind having to rely mostly on BT’s FTTC. There is very little FTTH here and not much altnet coverage. Yet Kent is meant to be the gateway to England, shouldn’t we be setting the example to the rest of the country!?

    • Avatar Optimist

      You’ve highlighted the problem with subsidies – they are funded by taxpayers in general but not everybody benefits.

      Compare this with the Beeching cuts of the 1960s – Wales lost an awful lot of rail lines but Kent lost very few.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Tim – all the projects including Kent are well funded. The issue has been 1) lack of resource and 2) BT decision to game costs and capital which is still being played out. There are huge sums of money owed to all the projects.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      @NGA – how is money owed? I thought counties paid out against invoices.

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