Julie James, Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
The Superfast Cymru project has hit the halfway mark with nearly 346,000 homes and businesses now able to access fast fibre broadband as a result of the project.
Last month also marked the one millionth premises in Wales that has access to fast fibre broadband as a result of the Superfast Cymru project and BT’s privately funded roll-out.
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.
Superfast Cymru 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.
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 our 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 June last year my predecessor updated members on action planned to provide fast fibre broadband to those premises not covered by either commercial or Superfast Cymru roll-outs. The Superfast Broadband Infill Project is to be delivered in two phases. Both phases will seek to deploy superfast broadband to areas which will be defined following the close of the public consultation. The second phase will also incorporate premises within the Superfast Cymru programme intervention area which are not passed as part of the programme.
The first phase of the infill project will complement the commercial and Superfast Cymru roll-out with rapid provision of superfast broadband with comparable speeds and service provision, and within the same timescales as Superfast Cymru. The second phase project will commence once the Superfast Cymru project concludes.
The postcode areas for phase one were identified through a review and public consultation carried out last year. Details of the list of postcodes which we intend to cover under phase one are available on the Welsh Government website www.wales.gov.uk/broadband. In total around 45,000 fall within this phase. Each postcode area listed includes at least one premises outside of the scope of the Superfast Cymru project and the footprint of the commercial providers.
On 11 February we issued an invitation to tender to deliver fast fibre broadband to around 2,500 businesses under phase one of the project. A further announcement will be made shortly about the mechanism to deliver fast fibre to the remaining premises.
We are working with the mobile industry, Ofcom and UK Government to improve mobile coverage across Wales. A key focus is to ensure that Wales benefits from the UK Government’s Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP), a £150 million investment, to address mobile notspots. We are working closely with both the DCMS MIP team and Arqiva to identify suitable locations in Wales. A number of sites are currently going through planning stage and we hope these sites will be ready for service in the coming months.
The UK Government has recently announced that it has reached a legally binding agreement with the Mobile Network Operators. Under the new agreement, the operators have agreed to invest a collective total of £5 billion (privately funded) on infrastructure improvements, with each operator guaranteeing 90% geographical coverage across the country (in place of population coverage), and provide reliable signal for voice over 2G, 3G or 4G, all by 2017.
Furthermore, we are working with the Mobile Operators following the 4G spectrum auction. The licence which was awarded to Téléfonica O2 carries a coverage obligation of at least 95% of the population in Wales by the end of 2017.
Finally in relation to the forthcoming auction of spectrum in the 700MHz band for use by mobile operators we will urge Ofcom to consider attaching a Wales specific geographic coverage obligation to the licenses. In sparsely populated areas, which include the vast majority of Wales, imposing a population coverage commitment would leave vast tracts of the country without, or with very poor, mobile coverage. Improvements in geographic mobile coverage when combined with the roll-out fast fibre broadband has real potential to improve the economic opportunities and tackle issues such as social isolation across even in our most isolated communities.