BT-Wales fibre broadband deal to reach 96 per cent of Wales
The Welsh Affairs Select Committee is concerned that too great an emphasis is being placed on ‘superfast broadband’ with not enough attention on the 90,000 plus Welsh homes that are unable to get any kind of broadband service at all.
“The first priority must be to ensure that the needs of the approximately 90,000 homes in Wales which currently do not have access to broadband are addressed as soon as possible,” reads the report’s conclusion. “The Government's ambitions for superfast broadband must not be at the expense of delivering a good broadband service for all.”
BT’s contract will see the company connecting 96 per cent of Wales to FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) broadband. The Committee however is concerned that Ofcom hasn’t “gone far enough in ensuring access [for other ISPs] is available at a reasonable cost” and urged the regulator to do more.
The report also urged Ofcom to undertake a study into the viability of using satellite broadband as a way of connecting Wales’ remotest regions. For those “very difficult-to-reach areas [satellite broadband] might be the best solution for Wales, as it has been for Scotland.”
The main advantage of satellite broadband is coverage - it’s available virtually anywhere where a satellite dish can be set up and pointed at the sky. The main disadvantages of satellite broadband are high latency, capped monthly data rates and price. Installation fees and monthly rates are generally high when compared to fixed-line broadband.
BT is currently negotiating with local councils in England to provide FTTC coverage to the majority of homes and businesses in Cumbria Norfolk, Surrey. EU rules on state aid mean that these contracts may be subject to additional scrutiny before work can start or if pen can be put to paper at all.
Annette Burgess, managing director of eXwavia (a provider of wireless broadband) commented saying:
“We are constantly talking about ‘when’ next gen, and ‘after’ next gen when, in reality, we have the ability and appetite to deliver today through the Broadband Support Scheme in conjunction with companies, like eXwavia, that are already investing in not-spot and slow-spot areas.”
Wireless broadband is another alternative that, like satellite broadband, doesn’t need a fixed line and is relatively easier to deploy. Like satellite broadband, the top speeds aren’t head and shoulders above those already available and don’t hold a candle to the speeds offered by full FTTP (Fibre to the Premises) fibre broadband.
September 17, 2012
Previous news stories about the BT-Wales broadband contract
BT has been awarded a contract from the government in Wales which will see 96 per cent of Welsh homes and businesses getting connected to a next-gen fibre broadband network.
As with BT’s £2.5 billion project, Welsh properties will be connected to a mixture of FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) and (FTTP) Fibre to the Premises lines.
FTTC provides top download speeds of 80Mbps and upload speeds of 20Mbps - the majority of lines deployed will be FTTC lines. FTTP cable will provide top download speeds of 330Mbps with upload speeds of 33Mbps, but will be deployed in a handful of areas.
Eventually, it’s expected that customers will be able to order in the ‘last mile’ - upgrading FTTC lines to FTTP lines - on an on-demand basis once the rollout is complete. BT intends to have 96 per cent of Wales fibred up by 2015.
Liv Garfield, chief executive of BT Openreach said: “This project will position Wales as a broadband leader and we are delighted to have signed this contract with the Welsh Government to make it happen.”
“Wales will become one of the best connected countries in the world and will be ahead of the chasing pack. The Welsh Government has shown great vision and we are certain that will pay off in terms of economic growth. The apprenticeships and work experience that we’re offering will mean the roll-out of this next generation network will inspire the next generation of workers.”
Wales’ First Minister, Carwyn Jones, added: “This is an incredibly important agreement for Wales. Our partnership with BT will see to it that Wales does more than simply catch up with our neighbours; we intend to catch-up, overtake and then set the pace that others will strive to match. The project will transform the broadband landscape across Wales and ensure that local businesses can become global businesses. It will ensure that firms remain in Wales and it will also attract a more diverse range of high growth, high value companies to the country across all our key sectors from tourism to high end manufacturing.”
A result of BT winning the contract after Fujitsu pulled out in January will see 50 new jobs and 100 new apprenticeships created. 320 existing jobs will be ringfenced and 900 young people will be offered a week’s work experience.
96 per cent is not enough - #wearethe4percent
Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary for the Commercial Worker’s Union said: “It's fantastic to see the huge investment both the Welsh Government and BT are making. It is also a major vote of confidence in the skills and experience of our members who will deliver faster broadband services right across Wales. This will help stimulate the Welsh economy, create jobs and is something I feel we can all be proud of.”
However only having one major bidder connecting the country to fibre could leave the Welsh government on the back foot and in no position to bargain. Wispa Limited’s COO Richard Brown isn’t impressed, telling us:
"It is an entirely cynical plan to attempt to 'big up' what the Welsh Government are doing, but it is totally clear that the contract will not deliver the levels of improvement necessary within Wales, and in fact it seems that even BT admit that they will not be able to deliver to all of Wales themselves. Sadly, it is typical of this Government that they will claim a huge win for Wales, but the devil will be in the detail."
Wispa is critical of the deal which doesn’t require BT to provide 100 per cent coverage and is concerned that big cities will see fibre rolled out first instead of rural communities - Wales has most of its population in rural areas.
"We had an opportunity to shape the economic and digital future of Wales, but we are about to squander it on the largest white elephant in town. More speed improvements in areas that would have received funding anyway [BT has already committed to rollout in 50 per cent of Wales] but, where it is desperately required, will continue to receive little or no interest."
Regarding the First Minister’s statement that Wales would leapfrog its neighbours in the UK for fibre, Brown said "not in my lifetime."
BT when contacted couldn’t comment on which areas of Wales would see rollout first outside of those locations mentioned by previous Openreach announcement. Regarding a response to Wispa’s statements we’re waiting to hear back.
July 19, 2012
Lead image credit: Flickr user The Ancient Brit