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Wales and the EU (The Broadband Picture)

The EU is making steady progress towards its Digital Agenda target; that everyone should have 30Mbps Broadband by 2020.

Wales has roughly aligned its Superfast Cymru programme across the EU Digital Agenda which aims to provide; “basic” (0.5-4Mbps) and “competitively-priced” broadband internet access to all Europeans by 2013 and for everybody within the EU to have access to superfast broadband speeds of 30Mbps+ by 2020 (with 50% or more households subscribing to 100Mbps+).


The map above (which is based on 2012 data) is an interesting one for Wales, since vast sways of rural Wales score a 0%.  Whilst ‘Superfast Cymru’ which uses BT’s Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) is focused on the main population centres of the South and North Wales and potentially overbuilding existing State Aided projects, the beautiful counties of Pembrokeshire, Powys and Ceredigion which are home thousands businesses and dominated by agriculture and tourism, are set to lag the rest of the country.

New technologies set to extend the reach of FTTC bode well for Wales in the long term. That said there is a real challenge in the short term to medium term (between now and 2020), for those residents and businesses in Rural Wales to ensure they not isolated from the BT Network and also enjoy a usable; fast, reliable competitively priced Broadband.

*Note: To enlarge the graphic Click on the map

SNAF and Superfast Cymru

The Welsh Government is continuing to offer £1000 for people who cannot Broadband speeds of 2Mbps and whose premises are anticipated to remain outside of the ‘Superfast Cymru’ deployment.

That said recent complaints around who can access the WG grants continue to hit local press.  Furthermore concerns of the levels of quality of service provided by small regional providers who pocketed the WG grant has also caused concerns both for end users and WG.

Over the border, Northamptonshire County Council have taken a more serious approach to get high speed Broadband those households and business overlookd by the BT superfast rollout. NCC’s Superfast Northamptonshire Access to Finance (SNAF) initiative plans to provide a loan to Service Providers to invest in the more difficult, costly or remote areas to complement their BT superfast roll out.

Now that WG are exploring ways of overbuilding its own Fibrespeed network in North Wales which barely 4 years old. Is it about time that WG raised its aspirations higher to serve those who won’t be covered by Superfast Cymru, rather than simply doling out sticking plaster grants to fund short term and what sometimes turn out to be unreliable solutions?

Mobile in Powys

Mobile infrastructure in Powys is set improve along the A470.

The UK Gov £150M Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) is targeted to provide mobile coverage for 60,000 premises and 10 key roads across the four UK nations.  For Wales, the A470 trunk road has been identified for coverage.

If you take you £150K as the cost to deploy a mobile mast, £150m will provide approximately 1000 masts across whole of the UK.

So whilst public expectations can sometimes be wide of the mark in a world where; Ofcom report that Vodafone failed to meet its obligation to deploy 3G, deployment maps like the one opposite are released and political pr is produced, road users and some residents along the A470 in Powys may start experiencing better mobile coverage next year.

For further information on MIP in Wales click here or here or here

Welsh Government – On withholding information

The Welsh Government (WG) is open as to why it does not want to disclose information about it’s ‘Superfast Cymru’ programme.

After initially denying a request under the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ here, WG Head of ICT Infrastructure Simon Jones states: ‘I believe the public interest in withholding this information is greater than that in releasing it’.

If you’re interested in knowing where public money is being spent on Broadband, there are many points to consider. For your information three arguments put forward by WG against disclosure of information are:

  • BT’s Commercial Interests
  • Substantial Harm to BT
  • Not in the Public Interest

Are we underestimating the challenge of the status quo to delivering public utility projects? WG response to another ‘freedom of information request’ here.

Open Government contracting with Openreach (a BT Business) clearly produces winners and losers. WG state that ‘disclosing the terms & conditions would prejudice BT’s competitive position and create expectations that, if not met would harm BT’s reputation and share price’.

Perhaps WG are not so opposed to transparency and accountability, but rather have yet to grips with public participation and policy implementation and therefore simply retreat and raise the drawbridge amidst angry accusations of face saving.

ABC – Can you apply?

Access Broadband Cymru (ABC) is Welsh Government (WG) scheme designed to help those who suffer from poor Broadband.

The Government’s original Universal Service Commitment (USC) was to ensure that everyone could access Broadband speeds of 2Mbps by 2012, however Ofcom recently reported that 12% of Wales (circa 150,000 premises) failed to receive these speeds.

So if you’re in a post code area not scheduled to covered by the WG/BT ‘Superfast Cymru’ (super fast network) programme then you can apply for a ABC grant here. But be aware there are some grey areas.

Ofcom report that two thirds of the slow speeds recorded are apparently in areas where super fast networks exist, so you may not be able to apply for ABC since you should be covered under ‘Superfast Cymru’.  It is worth noting your options for alternative providers are limited since most Internet Service Providers use BT’s infrastructure.

Furthermore, if you are in an area not yet covered by ‘Superfast Cymru’ project (as outlined in percentage terms below) you still may not be able to apply for ABC until the Superfast Cymru project is complete in March 2016.

We appreciate the ‘commercial confidentiality’ around ‘Superfast Cymru’ and the change of heart by Rt Hon Maria Miller (DCMS) to make the Superfast postcode level data available.  We are also bemused at how some alternative providers to BT have cashed in a small fortune by means of  the WG Broadband Support Scheme onto to provide poor service to already disadvantaged customers, as seen here.

Nevertheless we still suggest that if  you suffer from Broadband speeds of less than 2Mpbs then apply for the ABC here.

If you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised above then please drop us a line or to see the Ofcom report in full click here.

BT Wholesale quotes Broadband speeds up to 50 meters

Broadband ‘Up to’ speeds have long been a source of frustration for customers, service providers and a headache for the regulator Ofcom.

Superfast Broadband delivered by BT’s  ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ (FTTC) is not only is subject to ‘network congestion’ and ‘traffic management’ but also the length of the copper line to your premises as illustrated below.

Following recent complaints from Service Providers, BT Wholesale now state that “Speed estimates assume an average local line length of 50 metres, however this is an average and local line length can sometimes be up to 1km“.

According to ISP Review, data collected by Think Broadband (TB) estimates that 90% of the UK cabinet-to-premise line lengths are under 1km (therefore 10% are above). Using test data from BTInfinity customers, TB suggest an average (mean) length of 450m, with a median of 550m. (Although ISP review warn that ‘this is not an exact science’).

So, as more users upgrade to ‘Superfast’ Broadband,  if you are any distance from your BT cabinet (perhaps 50 meters or more) remember that the speed your Service Provider may quote you, sadly may not turn out to be what you get.

151 Towns and villages across Wales

Today BT announced a further 151 towns and villages who are set to benefit from the joint project between BT and the Welsh Government. They are: (According to Local Authority area)

Caerphilly: Cross Keys, Machen, Nelson, Rhymney, Risca, Senghenydd, Ynysddu

Cardiff: Radyr

Carmarthenshire: Amman Valley, Carmarthen, Hebron, Llanbydder, Maesycrugiau, Pencader, Pumpsaint, Upper Cwmtwrch, Velindre

Conwy: Cerrigydrudion, Llanfairfechan

Ceredigion: Aberaeron, Aeron, Aberporth, Borth, Bow Street, Bronant, Capel Bangor, Cardigan, Crosswood, Cwrtnewydd, Lampeter, Llanarth, Llandyssul, Llangybi, Llanilar, Llanon, Llechryd, Nebo, Newcastle Emlyn, New Quay, Ponterwyd, Ponthrydygroes, Pontrhydfendigaid, Pontshaen, Talybont, Tregaron

Denbighshire: Bodfari, Bryneglwys, Cyffylliog, Denbigh, Dyserth, Glyndwr, Llanarmon-yn-Ial, Llandegla, Llandrillo, Llandyrnog, Llangollen, Llanynys, Maerdy, Rhuddlan, Ruthin, St Asaph, Trefnant

Flintshire: Caerwys, Halkyn, Kinnerton, Llanferres, Gwynedd: Bontddu, Ganllwyd, Tudweiliog

Neath Port Talbot: Crynant, Cymmer, Glantawe, Glynneath, Pontardawe, Resolven, Seven Sisters, Skewen

Monmouthshire: Gilwern, , Magor, Nantyderry, Tredunnock Usk

Pembrokeshire: Boncath, Crosswell, Crymych, Dinas Cross, Llwyndrain, Moylegrove, Newport

Powys: Abercrave, Abermule, Berriew, Brecon, Builth Wells, Bwlch, Caersws, Carno, Castle Caereinion, Church Stoke, Crickhowell, Erwood, Forden, Guilsfield, Hay-on-Wye, Hundred House, Gladestry, Kerry, Kington, Knighton, Llanbrynmair, Llanfair Caereinion, Llandrindod Wells, Llangamarch Wells, Llangurig, Llanfrynach, Llanfyllin, Llangorse, Llanidloes, Llanymynech, Newtown, Llanrhaeadr, Llansantffraid, Llanwrtyd Wells, Merthyr Cynog, Montgomery, Newbridge-on-Wye, Penybont, New Radnor, Pennant, Presteigne, Rhayader, Sennybridge, Talgarth, Talybont-on-Usk, Trefeglwys, Tregynon, Trewern, Welshpool

Swansea: Llangennith

Torfaen: Blaenavon, Talywain

Wrexham: Bangor-on-Dee, Chirk, Dutton Diffeth, Glyn Ceiriog, Hanmer, Overton-on-Dee, Redbrook Maelor, Rossett, Rhosllanerchrugog, Ruabon

In some areas of the press it is stated that BT expect their roll-out to complete by the end of 2015, however it is our understanding that the roll out completion will be the end of March 2016.

We welcome todays latest roll out news. However we were hoping to see a full roll out schedule to the end of March 2016 to determine who would not be covered by the ‘Superfast Cymru’ roll out, and who qualify for the Welsh Government ‘Access Broadband Cymru’ Grant (webpage temporarily removed).

So with 480,000 premises potentially having the option to access a fibre based broadband service by the end of Spring 2015, this leaves BT with 100,000+ premises left to announce to complete the project by March 2016.

 

MIP Deployment in Wales

Arqiva has revealed the above map to show which areas of the UK are set to benefit from Mobile Infrastructure Project (MIP) and the good news is the first MIP sites are due to ‘go live ‘ by the end of the year.

Back in July the BBC published this map in an article ‘End to mobile phone black spots in Mid Wales’.  In the article Rt Hon Glyn Davies MP for Montgomershire, rightly states “This project will see mobile phone coverage extended to areas of rural Powys where currently none exists,” however the question remains how much of Powys.

As we understand the MIP project in Wales plan has always been been to simply deploy mobile masts along the A470 main trunk route as can be seen here from the Welsh Government website.

 

Whilst mobile providers are now expecting to beat their original target to make (3G or 4G) services available to “at least” 98% of UK people by the end of 2015 (beaint their original target of 2017 by 2 years). Painting Powys and Ceredigion in red may not be what some politicians had in mind in an election year.

 

 

The Rural Broadband Programme – Wales (and the Politics of Broadband)

Broadband is now officially a headline political tool!

As one Welsh politician recently stated, ‘Broadband is right up there with Europe in getting people excited and emotional at the moment.’

Clearly the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) believe there’s political mileage in releasing their report into ‘The Rural Broadband Programme’ today ahead of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester this Sunday.

So we aim our passionate stone throwing at service providers or is political hubris the underestimated factor in the Broadband story as we head downstream into 2015?

One of the areas of reserved for criticism in todays PAC report is the DCMS business case, however it can be argued that deploying Broadband (and in particular Rural Broadband) is not about a business case, it is about political idealism and notions about the public good (and of course votes) if managed well.

Arguably efficient management has never been a forte of the Public Sector. Hence we have armies of civil servants conscripting consultants to cover their flanks.  Whilst London carries out countless sorties to jettison management mercenaries over the Severn Bridge to deploy their untested generic data and reap the rewards of public plunder to the hollow anthem of  ‘We’ll keep a Welcome’ repeating in their ears.

So armed with limited of insight, a vague notions of demand and supply and with the heightened stress of prolonged negotiations all mixed up complicating common sense EU State Aid Law, The Welsh Government signed a mouth watering £425M deal with the only provider in town. No wonder PAC highlight the need for improved modeling for future Public Sector negotiations.  And in the meantime what happened to transparent public services?

And now whilst our civil servants put pen to paper to scribe what a good deal this is for Wales, the Welsh publics await to hear of where and when superfast broadband will be served.

‘Where and when’ Superfast Broadband is being roll-out, is going our political news next week, however the bitty political football match with Broadband is going play on for a few years yet.  Oh and yes.. There’s also an election being play out just down the road, which you can follow via online media, if you have the bandwidth to care that is.

Access Broadband Cymru

Access Broadband Cymru (ABC) is the new Broadband Support Scheme designed to help people who will not benefit from the roll-out of ‘SuperFast-Cymru’.

ABC is like its predecessor the ‘Broadband Support Scheme’ (BBSS) in that  Welsh Government offers a grant up to £1000 (inc VAT) to customers who do not receive Broadband download speeds of 2Mpbs.  The scheme will replace the BBSS and will commence on 1st October 2013.

To find out if you’re exchange is scheduled to be upgraded under Superfast-Cymru click here (and don’t forget to scroll down and hover over the exchange area that you’re interested in).  For further FAQ’s relating to Access Broadband Cymru click here.

Whilst Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Ken Skates highlights that the the Welsh Government ‘want to ensure that all our communities are able to enjoy the benefits of improved connectivity’ it appears that further clarification may still be needed for those who are uncertain if they will benefit from ‘Superfast-Cymru’, even if their exchange is scheduled to be upgraded.  See discussion on ThinkBroadband.com.

As of 1st October we will have access to the exchange upgrade schedule for the whole of Wales.  If your exchange is not listed, then by all means apply for the ABC Grant.  If you’re exchange is scheduled to be upgraded you still might qualify for an ABC grant, so its worth checking on the line checker/post code checker on http://www.superfast-cymru.com/where-and-when before making assumptions.

If you want to chat about this in more detail, please feel free to drop us a line: info@disconnectedwales.com