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Welsh Gov Criticised for Removal of Broadband Availability Checker

Wednesday, November 10th, 2021 (8:24 am) - Score 480
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Yesterday’s Plenary meeting of the Welsh Parliament raised an interesting point when it highlighted the Welsh Government’s removal of the superfast broadband availability checker from their Superfast Cymru page, which makes it harder for people to know which areas will benefit from the state aid supported rollout.

At present the Welsh Government is still running a £56mfull fibre” rollout programme, which is working with Openreach (BT) to extend their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based broadband ISP network to a further 39,000 properties by June 2022. However, once complete, this contract may reach fewer than the targeted number of premises, which is due to the impact of new commercial deployments (e.g. Ogi and Openreach’s plans).

The last quarterly deployment update in September 2021 (here) – covering the Q2 period to the end of June 2021 – saw the WG confirm that their contract had so far completed 20,490 premises, although yesterday’s debate put the latest figure at over 27,000 premises (we suspect this covers a bit of both Q3 and the unfinished Q4).

However, the most interesting point was made by Peter Fox MS (Welsh Conservative Party), who touched on the Welsh Government’s prior decision to scrap the postcode based superfast broadband availability checker from their website.

Peter Fox MS said:

“Recently, multiple constituents have contacted me to air their concerns over the Welsh Government removing the ability for them to type in their postcode on its website to ascertain whether their properties will be included and, indeed, when in the roll-out programme. The concerns surfaced when the postcode checker on the Welsh Government website was removed.

I note people can use the Openreach checker, but this doesn’t provide much information and doesn’t distinguish, arguably, correctly from the perspective of the general public between being connected through the Welsh Government’s funded roll-out programme and Openreach’s commercial roll-out. Understandably, this transparency issue is causing huge concern and unnecessary worry.

First Minister, will the Government address this shortcoming quickly to prevent any further stress to constituents and, no doubt, many others across Wales?”

In response, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford MS (Welsh Labour), promised to “make an enquiry into the postcode facility and what has happened to it.” On top of that he also touched on the plans for a follow-up project based around funding for the UK Government’s new £5bn Project Gigabit programme (this has tentatively already suggested that 234,000 premises in Wales could benefit – here).

Mark Drakeford MS said:

We’ve recently learned from the UK Government that they believe that there are 234,000 properties likely to be in scope now for its funding, and there are discussions going on at the moment to work through the question of whether it will be preferable for the UK Government now simply to press ahead with its own scheme—to run it, to deliver it, to operate it here in Wales—or whether it would be preferable to use the on-the-ground machinery that the Welsh Government has set up, and then use the UK Government funding to continue to provide in that way.

Those conversations are going on at the moment, and I expect them to be concluded before the end of this calendar year.

At present one of the biggest concerns is whether the Building Digital UK team have enough resources to run the Project Gigabit programme in a timely fashion. The recent publication of their Phase 3 deployment plans for England helped to underline this by showing that Phase 3 contracts may not even begin to commence until early to late 2024, with each new phase being pushed further and further back.

Put another way, by the time a decision is made on the plan for Project Gigabit in Wales, we might well not see contracts commencing until 2025, if they’re left up to BDUK. The question will then be whether a programme run by the Welsh Government could achieve a faster implementation and delivery, which is difficult to answer.

One of the original arguments for centralising Project Gigabit was to make the admin side faster and avoid some of the delays that affected the prior Superfast Broadband (SFBB) programme, but clearly that doesn’t hold up so well if it’s now taking multiple years just to kick off the procurement process.

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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.
Leave a Comment
3 Responses
  1. Christopher Havard says:

    Am I being too picky asking for you to refer to the Sennedd as the “Senedd” and not the “Welsh Parliament”?

    I know it’s only Semantics, but that’s why the politicians have the MS title (Member of the Sennedd)

    I don’t think anyone would refer to the US Congress as the “American Parliament”.

    No doubt others will have differing opinions.

    1. Christopher Havard says:

      Well, I’ve already shot myself in the foot by misspelling Senedd

  2. Seppi says:

    That’s a very familiar name

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