Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed of ongoing work on Broadband connectivity. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.
The Superfast Cymru roll-out continues to progress well. Our aim to reach 96% of Welsh premises by the end of Spring 2016 means that superfast broadband will become available to more people more quickly than the rest of the UK. Compared to other areas of the UK we have a bigger job to do.
It is a huge undertaking laying 17,500kms of optical fibre cable and installing around 3,000 new green roadside cabinets across Wales. This will see 691,000 premises across Wales able to gain access to superfast broadband services through the Superfast Cymru programme.
Superfast Cymru will mean that the majority of homes and businesses will be able to access broadband download speeds in excess of 30Mbps by 2016, with at least 40% of all the premises in the intervention area also benefitting from access to services in excess of 100Mbps. This is in line with the EU’s ambitions for widespread superfast broadband by 2020. To support this ambition, the EU is contributing £90 million via the ERDF programme to assist funding the delivery and roll-out of Superfast Cymru across Wales.
I am pleased to be able to announce today that sixty six more communities across 10 local authorities in Wales will get high speed fibre broadband by summer 2015 as part of the Superfast Cymru roll-out. This will mean in excess of 500,000 homes and businesses the length and breadth of Wales will be able to access the technology which provides speeds many times faster than those available today. They will join hundreds of communities in Wales either already live or due to be switched on as part of Superfast Cymru.
Areas of Monmouthshire, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Conwy are among the communities that are set to benefit. These areas will join those where the roll-out is already progressing well such as in areas of Gwynedd, Anglesey, Flintshire and Blaenau Gwent. Full details of the roll out up to and including June 2015 are available at www.superfast-cymru.com.
By the end of May 2014 superfast broadband had been made available to around 156,000 premises. Our target is to have enabled around 480,000 - about one third - of premises in Wales by Spring 2015.
Meeting this target requires a step change in the rate of deployment to around 100,000 premises per quarter, a rate of deployment far greater than many other areas of the UK. For example, when combining the counties of Bedfordshire, North Lincolnshire and Greater Manchester, these will deliver superfast broadband to approximately 103,000 premises combined, to the end of March 2016. Or comparing activity in Wales to Cumbria, whereas we will see 100,000 premises benefit from the roll-out every three months, it will take until the end of 2015 for 148,000 premises in Cumbria to benefit. These comparisons illustrate clearly how Wales is going further, faster and quicker in delivering superfast broadband to premises.
The pace of roll-out for Wales is significant and BT faces a substantial challenge. The scale of roll-out and complexities of the build are real obstacles which must be overcome. However, BT is working hard on the ground towards achieving these quarterly targets.
The switch to superfast from “normal” broadband will not in general happen automatically, consumers will have to actively elect to be transferred onto a superfast connection once the service is available to them. Anyone wishing to take up the service in an area once the service is enabled should contact their ISP or use a comparison website to identify a suitable provider.
I would be grateful if you could encourage your constituents in areas which have already benefitted from superfast broadband to consider switching.
In my last written statement I advised that we would be publishing details of the approach taken to test and verify premises, this information is now available on the Superfast Cymru website (www.superfast-cymru.com).I am also able to announce some important changes to the Access Broadband Cymru scheme. Firstly, the criteria which links eligibility under the scheme to the Superfast Cymru published roll-out for all applicants has now been removed because with today’s announcements, the vast majority of Wales is now within the published roll-out plan. This means that more people and businesses suffering from slow broadband speeds can benefit from the funding available.
Secondly, any solution funded through the scheme will need to be capable of providing superfast speeds bringing them into line with our overall superfast objective and giving customers access to fast and reliable broadband.
Finally, we will ask customers to make a small financial contribution towards the cost of the installation. The Welsh Government will pay 90% of the costs to a maximum of £900 per premises. By asking recipients to make a small contribution we will get better value for the public purse. Grant recipients will also be given the choice of waiting for Superfast Cymru to benefit their premises.
These changes to Access Broadband Cymru will further strengthen the ties between the scheme and Superfast Cymru, creating a coherent approach to broadband access in Wales.