Wales to get superfast broadband in £425m deal

THE WELSH Government have announced that 96% of properties in Wales are to receive superfast broadband as part of a £425 million deal agreed with BT.

The plan, which will see tens of thousands of miles of fibre optic cables laid across Wales, is the biggest deal of its kind in the United Kingdom.

Broadband speeds could be 15 times faster than at present, though most of the improvement will be in towns and cities where the density of the population means the private sector can provide the infrastructure at a profit. Download speeds of up to 80 megabits per second (MBs) will be offered, compared to the average download speed currently available in Wales of about five to six MBs. Even faster connections of up to 330MBS will be available to businesses who want it in some parts of Wales.

According to a report out this week by the regulator Ofcom, Wales has the lowest level of super fast broadband in the UK, with 34%. Coverage in Scotland is 42% and in Northern Ireland 96%.

The announcement follows an 18-month procurement process during which the Welsh government asked the industry what plans businesses had to invest in the network. Officials say 52% of Wales would not have benefited from next generation broadband without government intervention, though BT was the only company left in the process after the last of the others pulled out earlier this year.

The Welsh government is spending some £58m on the scheme, with a similar amount coming as a result of UK government spending and £90m of European funding. However, as the scheme involves a subsidy to a private company, it is subject to “state aid” approval from the European Commission.

First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “Our partnership with BT will see to it that Wales does more than simply catch with our neighbours. We intend to catch-up, overtake and then set the pace that others will strive to match.”

BT Openreach chief executive officer Liv Garfield said the company’s vans would soon be on the road as part of a “huge physical engineering journey”.

BT will create 50 jobs and 100 apprenticeships, and 320 existing jobs will be protected. The company will also offer work experience to 900 young people as part of an agreement that was welcomed by the Communication Workers’ Union.