Subsidised rural FTTP not ending just priorities are shifting
The phase 2 Superfast Cymru contracts had a noble ambition to deliver lots more FTTP but when the final contract was awarded to BT (Openreach) only some £22.5 million of the available subsidy was taken and a lower delivery volume of 26,000 premises of full fibre was agreed. The assumption until now was that just like many of the local authority projects in England where the phase two contracts were not 100% solutions that as time progressed additional extension contracts would be awarded hence talk of phase 3.1 and 3.2 in some English counties. Alas based on the extras Mark at ISPreview has covered it seems this is not going to be the case in Wales.
Now, we did put on the table a further £80 million in what is known to Members who correspond regularly as lot 2. We said there was £80 million for the market to bid for, to reach those properties that had not been reached under the Superfast project. And of the £80 million we made available to be bid into, only £26 million has been bid for by Openreach, able to spend by 2021. So, the market itself is not interested in getting public subsidy to reach those premises they’ve yet to reach under the previous programme that we funded.
So, we have a problem. It’s not that the money isn’t there or that we’re not willing to spend it, even though it’s not devolved. It is there. We’ve made that choice, but we simply don’t have the private sector partners willing to spend and reach deep into the areas that we want to reach. Paul Davies has mentioned that, even though Pembrokeshire under Superfast has the third highest level of spending the whole of Wales, with £15 million in Pembrokeshire alone, under the next scheme, only 300 or so premises are going to be included in lot 2, and that is deeply disappointing. It’s certainly not a situation that we want to see.Less Waters AM
We have a different viewpoint and it is this, the effort and resources needed to deliver the roll-outs in the rural areas which lead to it being more expensive (e.g. travel time + distance of fibre to install) are now being concentrated in the commercial roll-outs. Add to this the costs and time of visiting to install the fibre into each home when people order in rural areas compared to that in urban areas and a key part of the Fibre First economics is to bulk migrate customers from VDSL2 to FTTP.
The UK is unusual in that rural parts have a higher proportional availability of full fibre than the urban and in the race to stop the UK being a laughing stock when FTTP league tables are published operators such as Openreach, CityFibre, Hyperoptic and other new entrants are aiming to reverse that as we race to 50% FTTP coverage in 2025.
The current rural versus situation is best revealed by looking at the splits for a local authority like Pembrokeshire
- 84.8% superfast coverage 30 Mbps and faster
- 6.66% full fibre
- 11.6% under 15 Mbps
- 46,870 premises
- 99.6% superfast coverage 30 Mbps and faster
- 1.42% full fibre
- 0.3% under 15 Mbps
- 13,714 premises
The number of premises in rural Pembrokeshire is the inverse of the usual 80% urban, 20% rural that you get from the full picture of Great Britain and reflects the rural nature of that part of Wales. The Fibre First roll-outs have already pushed the Urban Cardiff full fibre figure to 17.6%, the increase is such that at the end of January urban Cardiff was down at 8.9% and in May 2018 the figure was 2.6%.
So to conclude rural FTTP is not reaching and end, if the 100% full fibre by 2033 ambition for the UK is to be realised it cannot have ended. The reality is that the old BDUK gap-funding model is reaching the end of its life and urban roll-outs are going to take precedent for a few years and the questions should be around how the new schemes such as LFFN can deliver in the rural areas both for the large council networks and residential premises.