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North Wales Seeking £56m to Boost Full Fibre Broadband Coverage

Thursday, June 14th, 2018 (8:24 am) - Score 488
wales north uk growth bid

New information suggests that around £56m from the proposed £383.4m North Wales Growth Bid could be invested (over a period of between 5 to 15 years) in order to help expand the availability of Gigabit and “ultrafast” capable “full fibre” (FTTP) style broadband networks in the country’s northern half.

At present nearly 95% of Wales can already access a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable ISP network (here), which is partly thanks to the Superfast Cymru project with Openreach (BT) that has spent the past few years extending FTTC and FTTP services to areas that would have struggled to be connected without support from £225m of public investment.

As that project is coming to an end the Welsh Government are already busy developing a follow-on scheme to tackle the remaining 80,000+ premises in the final 5% (here and here), which aspires to make “fast reliable broadband” (defined as 30Mbps+) available to “every property” in Wales. The potential value of this project is up to £200m, of which £62.5m has already been confirmed.

Sadly the coverage of ultrafast (100Mbps+) and Gigabit (1000Mbps+) capable services in Wales remains behind most other parts of the United Kingdom (except N.Ireland) and can only reach roughly a third of all premises. Most of this comes from a little bit of FTTP from Openreach, while the bulk is delivered via Virgin Media’s cable network (mostly in urban areas). The new scheme above is unlikely to radically improve this.

However it’s now been revealed by the Daily Post that the long-running North Wales Growth Bid, specifically its Digital Connectivity proposals, will include a strong focus on boosting “full fibre” coverage. The North Wales Economic Ambition Board (NWEAB) suggests that £56m could be put toward this effort, although by the sounds of it most of their focus will be on connecting businesses and public sector sites.

Colin Everett, CEO of Flintshire County Council, said:

“North Wales has lagged behind the rest of the UK for many years in terms of coverage and capacity. With the emergence of commercially available fibre optic technology towards the end of the 20th century, the widening of the digital divide now has the potential to increase even further, which is why this programme is so important.

Businesses consulted as part of the wider Growth Vision have cited digital connectivity as the single most important aspect of it, so it’s crucial we begin to make inroads and deliver better infrastructure, to support industry and attract new business into the region.”

The official North Wales Growth Deal page and related documents haven’t previously fleshed out precisely what would be included in the Digital Connectivity side of their bid, so it’s good to know that they’re keeping in line with the wider direction of things and shifting their focus toward full fibre connectivity.

At this stages the details are still a little thin, although there’s talk of the same kind of public sector anchor tenancy as we’ve seen Cityfibre adopt in other UK cities (some of which are soon to be extended out to homes via a new 1Gbps FTTH network with Vodafone). Plus some as yet unspecified policy changes to help foster such builds.

Overall its previously been suggested that the full growth deal could result in a wider economic boost to North Wales of £1.3 billion and the creation of 5,000 new jobs, although as usual we recommend taking such predictions with a pinch of salt. The bid is now in its final stages and a decision could be returned soon, which would enable implementation to begin during early 2019.

The membership of the NWEAB comprises the six North Wales Councils, Bangor and Wrexham – Glyndwr Universities, Grwp Llandrillo Menai, Coleg Cambria, the North Wales Business Council, the Mersey Dee Alliance and the Snowdonia, Anglesey and Deeside Enterprise Zone Chairs.

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