Welcome progress in broadband: but let’s finish the job!

“Wales needs a clear plan to plot the course to full delivery of broadband connectivity,” says CLA Cymru’s Nigel Hollett. “And the plan needs to be clear who is delivering what, when and with what resources, meeting what target.”

The call comes in response to the publication of a new study from the UK communications regulator, Ofcom. This has shown that the gap between urban and rural broadband performance is actually narrowing. Data in UK Broadband Performance: The performance of fixed-line broadband delivered to UK residential consumers, shows that the 9 percentage point (pp) difference between the proportion of urban (74%) and rural (65%) lines, with an average evening peak time speed of 30 Mbits or higher in March 2021, was lower than the 12 pp difference in November 2019.

This comes as the availability and take-up of superfast, ultrafast and gigabit services have increased in rural areas of the UK. However, the difference between the March 2021 proportions of urban (5%) and rural (17%) broadband lines, with an average 8.00-10.00pm peak-time actual download speed of less than 10 Mbit/s, (12pp) was unchanged since November 2019, when the respective urban and rural figures were 10% and 22%. Although the difference between average urban and rural peak-time download speeds is declining, average peak-time download speeds in urban areas (55.1 Mbit/s) were still as much as a third higher than those in rural areas (41.3 Mbit/s) in March 2021.

“Public experience of rural broadband connectivity is still poor. For too long, the Welsh rural economy has been held-back by poor broadband. Figures in this report suggest that improvements are being made in bridging the connectivity gap between urban and rural areas which is a great step in the right direction.”

Nigel Hollett, CLA Cymru Director

Nigel Hollett adds, “In May, we joined many organisation in Wales, in writing an open letter which explained that while the Covid pandemic has highlighted the importance of broadband to help keep us connected and able to work, Wales risked falling behind other UK nations’ move to ultrafast full fibre broadband, unless a number of barriers are removed. We need to improve the planning regime to make installation of infrastructure easier. Business Rates (devolved in Wales), changes must be made to incentivise rather than penalise 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.”

“We’re seeing a boom in online commerce and in remote working. Ensuring all homes and businesses have access to fast and reliable broadband is going to be essential not only for the post-Covid economic recovery, but also for us to meet our objectives in reducing emissions and meeting net-zero.”

It is estimated that connecting everyone in Wales to full fibre by 2025 would create nearly a £2 billion boost to the Welsh economy.

Progress is being made, but there needs to be universal coverage where everyone, irrespective of where they live or work, has access to an affordable and effective connection. It will mean jobs and wealth can be created in areas often blighted by deprivation, and younger families can find it viable to live in rural communities that urgently need it.

Read the Ofcom report here