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'Wales has best broadband of all devolved nations? We don't think so'

Tuesday, October 20th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Wales is in danger of being left behind the rest of the UK because of poor broadband and mobile connectivity, MPs and residents have said.

Their warning comes despite Ofcom saying Wales has 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.

But despite the figures looking so good, MPs and locals have voiced concerns about Wales – and especially its rural areas – being left behind other parts of the UK.

Speaking during a Commons debate on broadband on Monday, 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.

"Just 17% of Gwynedd is covered by the 3G data signal compared with a UK average of 84%, and most of that area is in the university town rather than my constituency.

"We have no 4G whatsoever — it is easy to remember that statistic. Our businesses are crying out for high-speed internet access and the Welsh Government are failing them."

'Poor broadband provision'

Ms Saville Roberts said digital infrastructure is as important to the Welsh economy as transport infrastructure.

She told fellow MPs: "Poor broadband provision is putting rural businesses at a disadvantage and might stop businesses investing in rural Wales, as we heard previously about Somerset."

Anglesey MP Albert Owen told the Commons his constituents do not want to be "in the slow lane" or "on the periphery when it comes to 21st-century technologies".

He said he wants his constitutents and those in other rural areas to be "first-class citizens".

"They must have not only the same rights and responsibilities, but the same services. Rural areas need to compete with large towns, so we need 21st century infrastructure.

"Those who say that the market can deliver should look at the mobile phone coverage in my area. It is very poor and patchy, and the market is not delivering.

"We want all the main players to work together to ensure that rural and peripheral areas get 100% attention and 100% broadband and mobile coverage."

Yesterday's comments come in the wake of calls from Mid Wales Welsh Assembly Member Russell George for mobile operators to make more of an effort to tackle coverage issues in the region.

Mr George said he had received a spate of complaints from residents, and wants to bring operators to the area to discuss ways coverage can be improved.

Wales still in danger

Left to right: Liz Saville Roberts MP, Albert Owen MP and writer Dee Carney

Cable.co.uk 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.

Ms Carney, who moved to the area after living in Cardiff for six years, said consistent broadband is also hard to come by, despite Ofcom’s Communications Market Report finding that Wales has the highest superfast broadband availability of the devolved nations.

Despite accepting that she would have to wait for the area to be upgraded to fibre broadband, she said she did not expect such an unreliable connection that sometimes drops out completely.

Ms Carney has struggled to complete freelance work as she battled difficulties with transferring files as well as joining in Skype meetings.

“I would miss what people said and quite often the screen would freeze with Skype reporting ‘an issue with the call’.”

She said that while she can write offline, when researching she often has to wait for websites to load.

'It makes no sense'

“At times I just have to stop for a while and have a cup of tea hoping the connection will settle down.

“I go and stare at my router willing the flickering internet light to settle down and become steady so I can start working again.”

The poor connectivity also affects her personal life, making it difficult to use Skype or Google Hangouts to chat with family in Australia, while watching TV online is also difficult.

Huw Parry, who lives in the village of Ton Pentre near Tonypandy in the Rhondda Valley, said he expected the cabinet in his area to be upgraded to superfast broadband in December 2012, but it has still not happened.

“I live 20 miles from the Welsh Assembly yet remote locations such as Dinas Mawddwy have fibre,” he said. “It makes no sense to me.”

He said mobile coverage in the area varies greatly between providers, with some networks struggling to get any coverage at all.

Earlier this year, a report from the Auditor General for Wales said the country’s superfast broadband rollout was making “reasonable progress”.

Huw Vaughan Thomas also said delivering the project on time was “fundamental to the successful achievement of the Welsh Government’s Digital Wales initiative.”

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