In a report released today, Monday 17 September 2012, the Commons Welsh Affairs Committee says the UK and Welsh Governments must work together and use all means available to bring broadband services in Wales up to speed with the rest of the UK, and eradicate broadband "slow spots" and "not-spots" as a matter of urgency.
Historically, the availability of broadband has been consistently lower in Wales than the rest of the UK. Although that gap has narrowed in recent years latest figures show that the gap between Wales and the UK has widened again. In rural areas of Wales the existence of broadband not-spots and slow-spots has hindered the operations of existing businesses and deterred new businesses from choosing to locate there—to the cost of the local economy.
The best broadband in Europe
The UK Government has pledged to provide the UK with the "best broadband in Europe" by providing access to superfast broadband for 90% of the UK by 2015. The Welsh Government’s target is even more ambitious and includes a commitment to provide all Welsh businesses with access to next-generation broadband by "the middle of 2016".
The Committee says that eradicating the remaining broadband not-spots and slow-spots in Wales must be the priority for both the UK and Welsh Governments. Both Governments should consider promoting mobile and satellite technologies, particularly in remote areas of Wales in order to deliver this and not rely solely on rolling out fibre optic cabling.
The Committee also says that both Governments must ensure that the roll-out of superfast broadband is not achieved at the expense of delivering a good broadband service for all. In the most remote parts of Wales broadband service can only be made available through a mix of technologies including mobile and in some cases satellite. The Committee says Government must investigate all possible options to ensure broadband service reaches everyone. It recommends:
- Ofcom undertake a study to evaluate whether satellite broadband should be supported more vigorously in Wales.
- The delayed Spectrum auction, now planned for 2013, must ensure that 4G mobile services are available to at least 98% of people in Wales.
- Ofcom must continue its efforts to open up access to infrastructure in Wales. BT's market power must be regulated effectively to ensure efficient operation of the market.
Comment from the Chair
Chair of the Committee David T.C. Davies MP said;
"Access to fast internet connection is essential to businesses and the economy in Wales. Broadband will become an increasingly important generator of economic success and a means of addressing social exclusion. It is hard to believe, but in mid-2012 there are still some areas of Wales where people have no connection at all. It is impossible to see how businesses or the economy can develop in these areas.
Both Governments have extremely ambitious targets for broadband provision and there is little time left to meet them. Wales must continue to receive the funding and political leadership to ensure that broadband provision is at the very least in line with the rest of the UK, and that the remaining "slow-spots" and "not-spots" in Wales are eradicated as a matter of urgency. Both Governments must consider all possible ways of achieving this quickly. The roll-out of higher profile "superfast" broadband must not detract from the highest priority, namely that everyone has a good, useable connection.
The programmes of both the UK and Welsh Governments must be implemented without delay, and we very much hope that they will both take the Committee’s recommendations on board. We will continue to monitor the broadband strategies of both Governments over the course of this Parliament."