BT has announced in its own press release that the group has won the contract to provide superfast broadband to those parts of Wales where commercial funding alone was not likely to reach in the next three years.
The project comprises £58m from the Welsh Government, £57m from the BDUK and £90m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The exact level of match funding from BT is unknown, but a total of £220m from BT which is the sum of pure commercial investment and match funding for Wales brings us to the headline investment of £425m. While exact figures are not available, we are led to understand that around one third of the investment by BT is from existing commercial roll-out plans, the majority being new investment as part of the project. Interestingly the project completion date is the end of 2015, and not the more common May 2015.
"This is an incredibly important agreement for Wales. Our partnership with BT will see to it that Wales does more than simply catch up with our neighbours; we intend to catch-up, overtake and then set the pace that others will strive to match. The project will transform the broadband landscape across Wales and ensure that local businesses can become global businesses. It will ensure that firms remain in Wales and it will also attract a more diverse range of high growth, high value companies to the country across all our key sectors from tourism to high end manufacturing.
As a result of Welsh Government, UK Government, European Structural Funds (ERDF) and private sector investment, a solution has been secured that will leverage the funding available to achieve best value for the Welsh pound. We have leveraged over £6 for every £1 invested by the Welsh Government."Wales’ First Minister, Carwyn Jones
The target for when the project completes in 2015 looks ambitious, with 96% of homes and businesses having access to an up to 80 Mbps service. There will be some (proportion unknown) of FTTP, but the majority will be FTTC, with those businesses and home owners who want faster being able to pay the install cost for Fibre on Demand (FoD).
For the remaining 4%, which is a vast improvement on the 20% of Wales that currently receives 2 Mbps or less, then things are not totally clear, but the press release says "According to Ofcom, more than 20 per cent of Welsh homes currently receive such speeds but that number will fall to around two per cent when the roll-out is complete. The Welsh Government is developing plans to address any remaining premises which will form the final phase of its commitment to making Wales a broadband nation.". There seems to be a disjoint between the headline 96% figure, and the 2% figure, as in where has the other 2% gone? It is feasible that this refers to those homes which will have very long copper distances to their telephone cabinet, and thus while they will get better speeds with a full FTTC roll-out, they won't meet the superfast definition.
Hitting a 96% figure for superfast broadband, will mean that we expect every Openreach street cabinet to be enabled for FTTC (VDSL2) services, particularly as for longer cabinet to premises telephone lines do not perform very well for VDSL2. Careful targeting of FTTP could alleviate this problem, so it will be interesting to see how deployment plans develop in the next year for what is the largest of the BDUK projects.
While there are perhaps lots of questions as to why the commercial market left just BT in the running for Wales, for residents and businesses at least they know roughly what to expect now, and can plan ahead accordingly. The key thing we want to happen is for Openreach to increase the level of publicly available data on where and when its cabinet deployments are happening, both the good (it is live) and bad (it has been delayed).