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All of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales’s work will be informed by evidence. Our work on digital communications over the next year will focus on the two issues outlined below. The questions give more detail on the type of evidence we now seek from stakeholders and interested parties.

Superfast broadband

Our provisional view is that, while a significant number of premises in Wales still don’t have access to superfast broadband, the primary focus for public funds should be on extending superfast broadband to as many households as possible using the lowest cost technology and that the public funds that would be required to extend fibre to every home in Wales by 2033 should be assessed against other possible uses. We seek evidence on whether the UK Government’s focus on extending more expensive fibre to the home, gigabit technology to every household in the UK will best serve the interests of Welsh citizens, including those who still lack access to superfast broadband.

Questions to stakeholders:

  1. What is the evidence, if any, to explain whether and why the value of economic benefits from the Superfast Cymru programme, relative to costs, exceeded those of equivalent programmes in the rest of the UK?
     
  2. What is the level of take up of Gigabit Broadband Vouchers in Wales and how does this compare with take up in the rest of the UK?
     
  3. Is there any economic evidence of the benefits of FTTH (over and above the benefits of superfast broadband) for businesses or households in Wales?
     
  4. How long will the UK broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) threshold of 10 Mb/s remain relevant for households? Should it be increased before 2033, when the UK government expects every household in the UK to have FTTH? If so, what technology would be used to meet the revised obligation?
     
  5. Should some households that have superfast broadband of 30 Mb/s today be required to wait until 2033 to obtain faster broadband from a FTTH connection? If not, what technologies should be used in the meantime and what policies are required to ensure that they are used?
     
  6. Why has the Welsh Government not set an FTTH coverage target for Wales after the UK Government did in 2017?
     
  7. How many households in Wales does the Welsh Government think could or will be served with FTTH on a commercial basis? To what extent does this depend on the effective implementation of measures proposed in the UK Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR)?
     
  8. Has the Welsh Government estimated the cost of extending FTTH to 100% of Welsh households by 2033, as current UK Government policy proposes?
     
  9. What proportion of BT’s 15 million FTTH households for 2025 could be in Wales?
     
  10. To how many households will Virgin Media’s ‘Project Lightening’ programme deliver FTTH?
     
  11. Why are there not more community broadband schemes in Wales? What more could be done and how many households could be served with FTTH using this model? Would community broadband schemes favour wealthy communities (and does this matter)?
     
  12. What proportion of the UK Government’s Local Network Full Fibre Challenge fund (£200 million) has been allocated to projects in Wales?
     
  13. What proportion of the UK Government’s Rural Gigabit Connectivity Scheme is expected to be allocated to projects in Wales?

Mobile broadband

Our provisional view is that: 4G and 5G mobile broadband may be the lowest cost technology to provide superfast connections to some Welsh households; that mobile connectivity delivers significant additional economic and social benefits in rural communities; and that, therefore, a greater proportion of public funds should be allocated to mobile as opposed to fixed broadband infrastructure or other infrastructure objectives. We seek evidence on whether and what additional measures the Welsh Government or local authorities could take (independently of Ofcom, the operators themselves, or the UK Government) to significantly improve mobile broadband coverage, including 5G, in Wales. What should our objectives for mobile coverage be?

Questions to stakeholders:

  1. Should Wales have mobile infrastructure coverage targets and a strategy to achieve them (in addition to anything that might be agreed by the UK Government with the UK mobile operators as announced in October 2019)? If so, what should they be?
     
  2. Is the UK Government’s target that the majority of the population should be able to access 5G services by 2027 one that Wales should adopt (and how does this differ from the EU-wide target that cities and major transport routes be covered by 2025)?
     
  3. What would be the socio-economic benefits of extending (a) premises coverage (b) landmass coverage in Wales (beyond that proposed in the proposed agreement between the UK Government and the mobile industry)? Have they been quantified?
     
  4. What is the current status of the ‘business case’ for subsidy of ‘in fill’ mobile sites, to which the Minister referred in her response to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in 2018 (page 25)? What conclusions has the Welsh Government drawn from it and how will these plans be affected by the proposed agreement between the mobile industry and the UK Government that was announced in October 2019?
     
  5. How could the Welsh Government ensure that the benefit to cost ratio of public subsidy of mobile masts to address ‘total not spots’ is greater than one?
     
  6. What does the UK Government expect the benefit to cost ratio of the £500 million it proposes to invest in the Shared Rural Network to be?
     
  7. Is home broadband a feasible application for 5G, at least on an interim basis until FTTH infrastructure is deployed (or as a hedge against the risk that FTTH may never be deployed in some areas)? What is required to deliver 5G home broadband to a significant number of households and businesses (including those currently lacking access to a fixed broadband connection of more than 10 Mb/s) in Wales?
     
  8. Is there any evidence of the relative costs of delivering broadband services of >100 Mb/s by 5G, as compared to FTTH, to households and businesses in rural areas?
     
  9. Are current 5G home broadband services sustainable at current price points as smartphone usage increases? Would they be sustainable only in less populated areas where demand from mobile users is lower?
     
  10. Is Ofcom’s (and the UK Government’s) current view of mobile coverage in Wales accurate (p. 23)? Can it be reconciled with other findings, such as the 2017 Arcadis study? Should the Welsh Government invest in developing a better view of coverage in Wales? If so, how?
     
  11. Have EE and Three complied with their commitment to provide voice coverage to 90% of the UK landmass by 2017? (Ofcom’s May 2019 data suggests not.)
     
  12. Is Wales sufficiently engaged in the various initiatives being undertaken as part of the UK 5G strategy, such as the 5G testbeds and trials programmes, the Rural Connected Communities Fund and various activities relating to roadside and trackside mobile coverage? How should such engagement be co-ordinated and managed?

How to respond

Please identify to which issue(s) and questions your evidence refers. Responses should be emailed to:

NationalInfrastructureCommissionforWales@gov.wales

If further information or clarification is required, the commission secretariat will contact you. If you need to submit a hard copy, please send your response to the:

Office of the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales
Planning Department
Welsh Government
Cathays Park
Cardiff   CF10 3NQ

The commission secretariat would be happy to answer any questions you may have on this call for evidence by e-mail at the address above.

Freedom of information and privacy statements

We may publish any responses received. If you believe there is a reason why your response or any part of it should be considered confidential, please provide details. Information provided in response to this call for evidence, including personal information, may be subject to publication or disclosure in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) or other relevant legislation.

If you want information that you provide to be treated as confidential please be aware that, under the FOIA, there is a statutory code of practice with which public authorities must comply and which deals, amongst other things, with obligations of confidentiality.

In view of this, it would be helpful if you could explain why you regard the information you have provided as confidential. If the commission receives a request for disclosure of the information, it will take full account of your explanation, but cannot give an assurance that confidentiality can be maintained in all circumstances.

The commission will process your personal data in accordance with relevant data protection law.

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