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Expansion of government schemes will make Wales 'one of the best connected countries in the world'

Wednesday, January 6th 2016 by Ellen Branagh

The expansion of two Welsh Government schemes will help give access to superfast broadband to more people in the country, it has been announced.

More than 530,000 premises in Wales can access fibre broadband as part of the Superfast Cymru project, with commercial rollouts providing access to many others.

But a few per cent of premises will still not be able to access superfast broadband.

In a bid to take access to all homes and businesses across Wales, the Welsh Government has announced the expansion of two schemes.

The Access Broadband Cymru scheme, which funds or part-funds installation costs of new connections for homes and businesses in Wales, will be available to every household that doesn't currently have a superfast connection.

A range of technologies are used to deliver faster speeds, including satellite, wireless and 4G, and there will be two levels of funding depending on the speed required – £400 for download speeds of 10Mbps and above and £800 for 30Mbps and above.

At the same time, the Ultrafast Connectivity Voucher – a scheme previously only available to businesses in the Enterprise and Local Growth Zones – is being opened up to businesses across Wales.

The scheme helps them meet the initial capital costs involved in installing ultrafast broadband services, with grants of up to £10,000 available.

'Vital'

Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Julie James said: “Superfast broadband is vital for homes and business, which is why the Welsh Government is committed to bringing faster broadband speeds to communities across Wales.

“These two expanded schemes, together with Superfast Cymru, our project to provide wireless broadband to 2,000 premises on business parks and industrial estates, and the commercial rollout by private companies, will make superfast speeds available to all homes and businesses across Wales.

“All the measures we are taking are helping to make Wales one of the best connected countries in the world.”

Last year, Ofcom said Wales had the highest availability of superfast broadband of any of the devolved nations.

According to the watchdog's Communications Market Report 2015, published in August, nearly four in five (79%) premises in Wales can get superfast broadband at speeds of 30Mbps – up from 55% in 2014.

The report put the take-up of fixed broadband in Wales at 77% – higher than Scotland (71%) and Northern Ireland (69%) – and attributed it to high levels of interest in the Superfast Cymru programme.

Ofcom also said the availability of 4G in Wales had increased "substantially" from 2014 to 2015, now standing at 62.8% – although this was the lowest of the UK nations.

'Poor internet speeds'

But despite the promising figures, MPs and residents warned that Wales was in danger of being left behind the rest of the UK because of poor broadband and mobile connectivity.

During a Commons debate on broadband, Liz Saville Roberts, MP for north Wales constituency Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said: "Tourism and agriculture, our principal rural industries, are highly dependent on effective internet services for marketing and their statutory data returns.

"There is a real issue with isolation and loneliness, and poor internet speed is doubly damaging in rural areas given the equally poor, if not non-existent, mobile data signal.

"Our businesses are crying out for high-speed internet access and the Welsh Government are failing them."

Anglesey MP Albert Owen told the Commons his constituents do not want to be "in the slow lane" and called for all the “main players” to work together to ensure rural and peripheral areas get 100% broadband and mobile coverage. Cable.co.uk also spoke to Welsh residents who reported a catalogue of problems caused by poor mobile signal and broadband connections in parts of Wales.

Freelance writer Dee Carney, who lives in Llandysul, west Wales, said when guests had come to visit her, they had been unable to contact her due to a complete lack of mobile signal.

And Huw Parry, from the village of Ton Pentre near Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley, said despite living just 20 miles from the Welsh Assembly, he was still waiting to be upgraded to fibre broadband.

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