Welsh Government Superfast Broadband: Needs to be beefed up

In a recent article published by the BBC in which Welsh Assembly Members had said that the £425 million Superfast Cymru broadband scheme failed to deliver.

Superfast Cymru was set up to connect 655,000 homes and offices – or 96% of premises in Wales. Spectrum Internets Managing Director, Giles Phelps has this to say about how the whole process was carried out:

“I think the Superfast Cymru initiative was a cheap and fast method for improving the speed and coverage of broadband in Wales. As this went through a fairly traditional public sector tender process and there was no real precedent for this type of tender I don’t think you could have expected a different result unless more time was spent planning and researching the market.

“This would have led to significant delays maybe we would only really be starting the upgrade process now. We still don’t have answers for the really hard to reach areas in Wales. The only thing we do know is it will cost a lot more money per premise to provide better speeds to the entire nation. The important thing is that we now put more effort into making sure everyone has access to the 30Mb/s speed as a minimum and that we make significant inroads into future proofing our infrastructure to enable speeds of 100Mb/s +.”

At the moment the recommended speeds for Superfast Broadband are too low. Phelps suggests that we should start using symmetrical technology where upload and download speeds are the same. “Wireless and other enhanced copper solutions should be looked at as a last resort. We would anticipate that fibre to the premise will cost approximately £1000 – £2000 per premise to install in the more remote areas, however in some cases the costs will be significantly higher. Although in many households they have access to the Superfast Broadband technology they get less than 15Mb/s (many considerably less) download speed and less than 2Mb/s upload speed. That is barely suitable for an average family now and definitely not suitable for a business. There is no plan to improve the service to these premises unless you are willing to pay up to 10 times more for your broadband service.”

Phelps believes these steps need to take place, “the Welsh Government ABC scheme is a good start, although it may need tweaking slightly; the amount of grant available may need to be increased to allow for more fibre to the premise solutions. It should however also come with more stringent criteria, for instance, any solutions offered where increased funding is required, services should be capable of delivering speeds in excess of 100Mb/s for both upload and download speeds. The solution should be a permanent solution and the design should be checked to ensure it meets sustainability criteria. Any government grant should not be wasted if an ISP decides to pull-out or fail. The pricing should also be comparable with similar products and services offered in commercial areas. One important area to look at is other sources of funding which could include match funding and/or loan funding. Match funding would require infrastructure providers to spend some of their own money on the infrastructure. This would help ensure sensible commercial deployments are made. The Welsh Government could also look at a specialist loan fund which is similar to a repayable grant. This funding would be specifically made available to infrastructure providers and/or ISP’s but ultimately the money is repayable. This fund could be managed by an organisation such as Finance Wales.”

One thing for sure is that Welsh Government will need to beef up its effort to improve broadband coverage and speeds in Wales and I suggest it looks at bolstering the ABC scheme immediately to make sure there is no delay in providing solutions to those left in the slow lane. We know there are areas now that have poor broadband so there is no excuse, we should be planning and taking action now.

View the ISP Review on the roll out of superfast broadband in Wales

Welsh Government, Superfast Cymru

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