(Title Image: Daily Post)
The Leader of the House and Minister for Skills & Technology, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), has confirmed that BT had successfully bid for two of three lots in the successor scheme to Superfast Cymru which is hoped will provide fast broadband to an additional 16,000 properties in north and south-west Wales & the Valleys by March 2021.
The contract is worth £13million and the final lot, covering eastern Wales, is still out for tender.
The Minister also said that the application process for the Access Broadband Cymru scheme – which helps communities to connect themselves to broadband – will be made simpler.
Shadow Economy Secretary, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), said the progress to date was worthy of congratulations, but the fact only 16,000 properties will be connected in the next round “was too low”. The Welsh Government has also missed a target for 96% of Welsh properties to be connected by spring 2016 (it’s currently standing at 92%).
There were calls for broadband to be treated more like a public utility similarly to water and electricity:
“I agree, actually, that it would be easier to make progress in this area of delivering wide-ranging coverage if broadband were treated more like a public utility. This is increasingly an absolute life and business necessity for many and is particularly necessary to ensure equality of opportunities in some of our least accessible places.”
– Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
The Leader of the House broadly agreed that the issue has moved on from being one of luxury to necessity, recalling a time when parts of Wales were actively advertised as being “disconnected” as though it were a positive. She estimated that there were still around 90,000 properties without proper broadband access in Wales.
Selling Unconnected Homes
Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) and Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd) both raised the issue of poor broadband access on new-build sites in their respective constituencies:
“From a Superfast broadband perspective, Taylor Wimpey have sold unconnected homes on the (Castle Reach & Kingsmead) estate, which is very disappointing. I think that was recognised at the meeting that was held on my behalf with residents and the Welsh Government. Residents in the remaining 50 or so unconnected homes on this estate have been trying to raise money in order to use Access Broadband Cymru, and they recognise the support that the Welsh Government has given them, but it hasn’t proven easy, because of financial and organisational barriers.”
– Hefin David AM
Julie James said it was “frustrating ” that new estates haven’t been futureproofed for broadband, while UKIP’s David Rowlands wanted more to be done to encourage take-up by businesses.
“I’ve had some concerns raised in regard to how the installations have been completed. In some of my rural areas—I’ve raised this with BT, and they say, ‘Well, it wasn’t in the contract’, and it’s all this sort of ducking out, if you like, of doing jobs properly.”
– Janet Finch-Saunders AM (Con, Aberconwy)
To that, the Leader of the House says she has no power to intervene in any private deals between BT and private landowners (such as for access and wiring), but can where it involved the Welsh Government/public contract.