Broadband - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Welsh Assembly Government

  1.  The Welsh Assembly Government recognises that widespread access to affordable, secure broadband is important to businesses and citizens across Wales. The challenge is to ensure that the communications infrastructure enables access to the services required by both businesses and citizens wherever they are. It is vital therefore that government, regulator and industry address this challenge and thus build a thriving and prosperous Welsh economy.

  2.  To this end, the Assembly Government has a history of working with the telecommunications industry and the communications regulator, Ofcom to share information on communications infrastructure issues, understand barriers to investment, including regulatory, planning and economic issues, and inform future policy making in this area.

  3.  The Assembly Government launched a programme of activities in 2002 to transform broadband availability and take up across Wales. The programme covered a mix of supply and demand activities based on European Commission rules and best practice. The underlying principle was that Government would only intervene where necessary and appropriate, in a technology neutral manner.

  4.  By July 2007 the Assembly Government had taken action to ensure that all telephone exchanges in Wales had been DSL-enabled for broadband services; making broadband available to an additional 7,500 premises. The impact of these activities has been positive and has been reflected in a sharp rise in consumer take-up figures for broadband since this date.

  5.    Despite these efforts there are still some premises that continue to face difficulties accessing a broadband service. The Regional Innovative Broadband Support (RIBS) scheme is focussed on bringing a broadband solution to these locations. In December 2008 it was announced that the project would address several known notspot clusters in Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Conwy. This work was completed in August 2009 and work is now underway to identify the next areas for investment.

  6.  The Assembly Government has also taken steps to stimulate economic growth and encourage enterprise in North Wales by improving access to competitive communications infrastructure in the region through the FibreSpeed project. This joint venture between the Assembly Government, European Regional Development Funds and Geo Networks Ltd constitutes £30 million of investment over 15 years. The new network is creating a competitive retail market for service providers who are now able to sell a diverse range of affordable (benchmarked against London & the south east of England) voice and data services in the region. The open access approach to the project has been recognised by both Ofcom and UK Government as an exemplary approach to public funded broadband intervention. The project was also referenced by the European Commission recent consultation on the application of state aid rules in publicly funded broadband networks.

  7.  In addition, action is underway to transform broadband access across the public sector in Wales via the Public Sector Broadband Aggregation (PSBA) project. Public sector sites are connected to the network using either fibre or copper circuits at a range of bandwidths involving different security profiles dependent on the business requirements of each site. There are currently in excess of 850 connected sites, with new sites added to the network daily. As a result of PSBA, public sector employees from participating organisations will be able to exploit advanced voice, video and data services according to the business requirements of their organisation more cost effectively and securely than in the past.

  8.  Alongside these actions, the Assembly Government has been an active participant in the UK debate on next generation broadband deployment. Through responses to Ofcom consultations and through dialogue with other devolved administrations, UK government and the communications industry, the Assembly Government has called for an open debate on the introduction of a universal service obligation for broadband. The Assembly Government is of the view that the introduction and implementation of an universal service commitment for broadband should be conducted in such a way as to incentivise and leverage investment in faster broadband services beyond the natural market-led footprint traditionally associated with communications services roll out.

  9.  As a result of Digital Britain, a new body, the UK National Design and Procurement Group (NDPG), will be established in October 2009 to oversee the procurement of a supplier(s) to deliver the Universal Service Commitment (USC) of 2Mbps across the UK by 2012. The Assembly Government will directly contribute to the governance of this new body and will ensure that the wealth of knowledge and experience amassed since 2002 in addressing broadband issues in Wales is used to facilitate the widespread availability of faster broadband services across the UK. It is envisaged that this knowledge and experience will allow Wales to benefit early from the USC.

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Prepared 23 February 2010