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Inquiry launched into Welsh broadband services

Friday, March 18th 2011 by Nigel Adie

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee is looking into the country's broadband services and strategy.

Welsh MPs have announced the launch of an inquiry into the state of broadband coverage in the country.

Research published by Ofcom in August 2010 revealed broadband take-up in Wales stood at 64 per cent, lagging behind the 71 per cent recorded across the UK as a whole.

Rural Welsh communities were found to be leading their urban counterparts in terms of broadband access, with 69 per cent of people signed up in more remote areas - seven percentage points higher than in towns and cities.

Some 16 per cent of consumers had a mobile broadband subscription, up five percentage points on the previous year.

The country missed out on inclusion in the government's first round of super-fast broadband trial projects, with Cumbria, Herefordshire, North Yorkshire and Scotland's Highlands and Islands instead chosen as pilot sites for the technology.

Amid fears that the digital divide between Wales and the rest of the UK is widening, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee (WASC) has agreed to undertake a study into broadband services.

Among the areas that will be considered in the report is the extent to which the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's strategy complements the priorities outlined by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG).

In a statement, the WASC noted the UK administration has earmarked £830 million of public funding to encourage the rollout of high-speed internet services, in a bid to give Britain the best broadband network in Europe by 2015.

Reliable web access is increasingly acknowledged to play a vital role in driving economic performance and has also proved to be essential for education, business and people who live alone or in isolated areas, the body explained.

But it cautioned: "There is, however, some concern that Wales is being left behind other parts of the UK and beyond in the digital revolution, with reports of serious difficulties experienced by some people living in rural areas in gaining access to broadband services."

Under its Digital Wales plan, the WAG is aiming to ensure that next-generation broadband is available to all businesses and homes in the country by 2016 and 2020 respectively.

Lesley Griffiths, deputy minister for science, innovation and skills, said: "The growth of our economy and the wellbeing of our citizens are now inexorably linked to advances in technology." 

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