Report with recommendations for Digital Infrastructure in Wales published
Back in January 2017 we attended the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in Cardiff to give evidence on the state of broadband coverage across Wales and answer various questions the committee posed. Now in September the final report has been published and includes some 12 recommendations.
This news article is a little long, so we'd like to make one recommendation in public to the Welsh Government: There is no doubt that if future proofing broadband for those in the 8.5% who cannot get superfast broadband today is at all important that full fibre (FTTP) solutions should be delivered. Several areas of Wales now have such large amounts of FTTP that the benefits should be measureable in terms of connection reliability and benefits this brings to business and home workers particularly.
We raised concerns over confusion about what the Superfast Cymru project was delivering and unfortunately this confusion still exists in the report, in short the confusion over what the 96% target is Wales actually is continues. For those that don't know, the target is usually referred to as 96% fibre based broadband coverage across Wales, which would thus include VDSL2 lines at lengths where speeds of only 1 to 2 Mbps (or even less) were possible and this woolly definition may explain some of the public anger. We said that references to the final 4% back in January were misleading but still there is talk of connecting the final 4% across Wales when if the goal is to deliver superfast there is still more than 4% that needs delivering.
As the topic of where Wales is in terms of roll-out is so important we have included our usual analysis table with a few changes to the columns, and at 95.9% fibre based coverage Wales is actually only 1,600 premises away from meeting the fibre based target on our tracking. If the 96% target is a stricter one, e.g. only lines with speeds of 10 Mbps or faster are available then they are just 0.5% shy of the goal (another 6,700 premises). With a goal stated a couple of years ago of delivering 80,000 premises of native GEA-FTTP across Wales and lots of FTTP areas showing as in build both of these targets look achievable and before December 2017. The end of 2017 is important as any grace period for delays in the build ends and penalty clauses are believed to kick in for BT, so we can expect an all hands on deck invasion of Wales by Openreach in the next couple of months.
Of course no-one can be 100% accurate on such large and dynamic datasets, so if Welsh politicians want to say the 96% target has been reached it is so close that we will not fight that - the issues we have is that the superfast coverage levels are still down at 91.5% and the majority of the public when they hear 96% target reached for SuperfastCyrmu project will immediately think that this is incorrectly 96% coverage at superfast speeds, and we include journalists in this, as all too often once press releases are re-hashed for publication the wrong labels are used.
If you want to read our summary of the recommendations from the report, scroll past the coverage table.
|thinkbroadband analysis of Superfast, USC, USO and Fibre Broadband Coverage across the Wales and delivery via the BDUK project.|
data 20th September 2017
|Area||% fibre based|
|% Openreach VDSL2/FTTP||% superfast|
30 Mbps or faster
100 Mbps or faster
% Full Fibre
|% Under 2 Mbps download||% Under 10 Mbps download|
Excludes FTTP (*)
|Wales in January 2013||45.4%||45.4%||44.1%||28.7%||0.25%||6%||22.5%|
|Abertawe - Swansea||98.4%||93.9%||97.1%||72.8%||
|Bro Morgannwg - the Vale of Glamorgan||96.7%||95.6%||93.7%||52.4%||
|Caerdydd - Cardiff||99%||94.2%||98.2%||79.7%||
|Caerffili - Caerphilly||99%||99%||96.1%||0.3%||
|Casnewydd - Newport||97.4%||90.2%||96.1%||68.5%||
|Castell-nedd Port Talbot - Neath Port Talbot||98.6%||96.7%||96%||60.7%||
|Merthyr Tudful - Merthyr Tydfil||99.5%||99.5%||96.9%||3.1%||
|Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr - Bridgend||97.3%||97.3%||95.5%||0.8%||
|Rhondda Cynon Taf||99.2%||98.3%||96.8%||9.1%||
|Sir Benfro - Pembrokeshire||92.5%||92.5%||82.5%||3.6%||
|Sir Ceredigion - Ceredigion||78.6%||78.6%||64.4%||7%||
|Sir Ddinbych - Denbighshire||86.9%||86.9%||82.8%||1.3%||
|Sir Fynwy - Monmouthshire||95.7%||95.7%||84.3%||4.5%||
|Sir Gaerfyrddin - Carmarthenshire||91.1%||91.1%||81.2%||4%||
|Sir y Fflint - Flintshire||95.8%||95.8%||91.1%||5.9%||
|Sir Ynys Mon - Isle of Anglesey||93.5%||93.5%||84.6%||11.8%||
|Tor-faen - Torfaen||97.9%||97.7%||95.9%||30.2%||
|Wrecsam - Wrexham||95.8%||95.8%||90.7%||3%||
(*) In Wales the vast majority of Openreach GEA-FTTP is via the BDUK project, but indentifying new build estate commercial FTTP versus the BDUK areas is too time consuming to resolve, so we have included the BDUK footprint excluding FTTP. The full fibre column features two figures and any other coverage reports from now on will follow the same pattern, the first figure is full fibre irrespective of who the operator is and the figure in brackets is the contribution from Openreach, this change will hopefully highlight the contribution from operators such as Hyperoptic in Cardiff.
- Problems with communication have hampered the project and any future contract should include a communication performance target.
- A grant or equity scheme should be established to help small operators fill in the gaps in the network. Public ownership or partnerships should also be explored.
- Future schemes should build on the success of the Access Broadband Cymru and Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher schemes.
- It is vital that the hardest to reach communities and individuals are now engaged in the process to ensure that potential solutions can be tailored to their needs. Connecting the final 4% is will (typo in report)be more expensive and it is vital that communities buy in to to the solutions being proposed.
- As assessment of future needs is needed to inform the next stages. Connectivity needs to be suitable for now and the future.
- Welsh Government should consider making future public subsidy conditional on supporting government policy to improve digital infrastructure and to ensure that it meets the needs of consumers in the future.
- The planning regime should be reformed to support investment in digital connectivity.
- Welsh Government does not have the powers to force mobile operators to share infrastructure, but should encourage this.
- Work with Ofcom and Mobile Network Operators to offer non-domestic rates relief on new mobile masts in non-commercial areas.
- Work more closely with stakeholders over forthcoming Mobile Action Plan
- Ofcom needs to use all its regulatory powers to ensure its 100% geographic coverage target is met.
- Welsh Government and planning authorities should a toolkit to make acecss to grant and and community funding for those that want to enhance mobile connectivity in their area.
For those living in Wales who have checked their postcode on the Openreach site we estimate that something like 20,000 to 40,000 premises are pencilled in for FTTP to be delivered by end of December 2017, and as such this will tip the project past its original goals.
The real question now is what will Wales actually do in terms of additional contracts and how will the gainshare be used, £56m which has been announced as available to extend coverage, this could deliver 30,000 to 40,000 premises of full fibre coverage that is thus fully future proofed. Voucher schemes while appealing and a good way of dealing with those in most need who find out about the scheme but carry the risk of explotation in the form of prices rising to maximise income for operators from the vouchers, the bigger issue is that vouchers tend to pass much of the public with out them noticing simply because for most people their family and job occupy most of their time rather than chasing better broadband - yes poor and slow broadband is a real pain but other aspects of life often mean the majority only learn about better broadband options when its pointed out to them individually. This is actually a major problem with FTTP roll-outs where the choice of provider is limited, both for the Openreach and other alternate operators - this issue does vanish once you reach the community led efforts of B4RN and its clones since community spirit takes over.
Update 22nd September Apologies to the those in Ceredigion when transposing the figures into the table for the coverage round up across Wales we missed the area, this has now been remedied.