While the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of broadband to help keep us connected and able to work, Wales risks falling behind other countries' move to ultrafast full fibre broadband, unless a number of barriers are removed.
Making sure that all homes and businesses have access to fast and reliable broadband is going to be essential for the post-Covid economic recovery.
However, there are a number of barriers that risk holding back the rollout of full fibre across Wales.
This includes current planning rules that hinder, not help the rollout of full fibre. For example, local authority planning terms for fibre street digging are outdated, overly complicated and in need of urgent reform. There should also be fair and equal access to gas, electricity and water infrastructure – which is already in the ground – so fibre builders don’t have to keep digging up the road and people’s land unnecessarily.
Changes must also be made to business rates that currently penalise, rather than incentivise, fibre builders to invest in the latest full fibre. It must also become mandatory for full fibre to be pre-installed in all newly built houses.
Research suggests that, if fibre rollout in Wales continues with these barriers in place, we will move to only around 60% of households and businesses having access to full fibre by 2025 (from the current 15%). However, the same modelling, completed in the summer, shows that 92% of Wales could be connected by 2025, were all these barriers removed.
It’s estimated that connecting everyone in Wales to full fibre by 2025 would create nearly a £2 billion boost to the Welsh economy.
Far more of Wales could benefit from ultrafast broadband, particularly more rural areas, given the right support from UK Government, Welsh Government and local authorities.
Ian Price, Director, CBI Wales
Heather Anstey-Myers, CEO, Chambers Wales
John Mercer, Director, NFU Cymru
Nigel Hollett, Director Wales, Country Land and Business Association (CLA)
Ashley Rogers, Commercial Director, North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council
Lance Burn, Managing Director, Design Group UK
Michael Plaut, Director, Duck Island Ltd