Superfast Cymru draws to a close as £80million successor scheme outlined

(Title Image: Daily Post)

Superfast Cymru was a Welsh Government flagship scheme to bring high-speed broadband to buildings which cannot access it commercially; see more at: Four things we learned about broadband in Wales.

While the scheme has been a success, there’ve been complaints about the length of time work has taken and the continued existence of “not spots”. The scheme’s roll-out ended on 31st December 2017.

The Leader of the House (and the minister responsible), Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), said the availability of high-speed (30+ Mbps) broadband doubled since 2013 and was now the highest rate of the devolved nations. She accepted more needs to be done as constituents and communities had contacted her in frustration at a lack of proper broadband.

A tender for Superfast Cymru’s successor – worth £80million – has gone out, though Julie later admitted this may not be enough to reach all premises.

The focus of the successor scheme will be on rural areas (particularly Ceredigion and Powys), increasing bandwidth and providing the infrastructure for 100 Mbps connections – the latter to take into account business needs, increased media streaming and round-the-clock connectivity.

The Access Broadband Cymru scheme – which part-funds non-traditional methods of accessing broadband – will also remain in place.

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), hailed Superfast Cymru as a success but resulted in a “sense of injustice” in areas left behind. He hoped to guard against the rolling out of “inferior” technology that fails to deliver for rural residents (Jargon: fibre to cabinet instead of fibre to premises).

Adam Price AM (Plaid, Carms. E & Dinefwr) echoed Russell George in celebrating the progress but not ignoring those still left out. Carmarthenshire has some of the lowest numbers of superfast broadband connections in Wales. He believed ultrafast connections should be done the other way around and start being rolled-out in rural and post-industrial areas before urban areas.

Lee Waters AM (Lab, Llanelli) repeated the “good work, but people are still left out” line. New home buyers in his constituency have been let down having been told by Openreach that a superfast connection was forthcoming only for it to be cancelled later.

Neil Hamilton AM (UKIP, Mid & West Wales) accepted it may not be practically possible to connect every household or premises, but wanted obligations placed on suppliers to properly publicise their actions and to do so honestly. Joyce Watson AM (Lab, Mid & West Wales) wanted broadband connections to be treated as any other utility in new-build developments.

Darren Millar AM (Con, Clwyd West) made a point that schools etc. often have excellent broadband speeds under public sector broadband aggregation (PSBA) but the premises around them don’t; could they benefit from being connected that way? The Minister said there were legal issues as they are secure networks.

Simon Thomas AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) wanted to know where the £80million was coming from? Was it still coming from EU funds? He also wondered whether the Welsh Government would consider a statutory (legally-binding) guaranteed minimum broadband speed across Wales based on Ofcom recommendations.

Julie said it was a mix of EU funds, Welsh Government funds, a small amount of UK Government funding and also part-funded by a gainsharing clause (the Welsh Government get a cut of BT’s profit as more people take up broadband).

The latter was picked up by Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) who asked what percentage could the Welsh Government expect to claw-back? Julie didn’t know but said any extra funds would go back into the successor scheme.

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