The Building Digital UK team has published a new Public Review (PR) consultation for Wales, which reveals that some 327,174 premises may be in need of state support under the aid of the government. £5 billion gigabit project broadband deployment scheme in order to access speeds of 1 Gbps (increasing to 984,806 if ‘In the study‘ local).
The project, which aims to upgrade areas in the bottom 20% of the UK (5-6 million premises) where commercial investment models tend to fail, aims to ensure that at least 85% of UK premises can access a gigabit-capable broadband ISP connection by the end of 2025, before eventually reaching “at national scale” coverage (actually c.99%) by the end of 2030 (here and here).
REMARK: Commercial builds alone – mostly in urban areas – have already pushed gigabit coverage to around 65% of UK premises, and it will reach 80%+ by the end of 2025 without public investment.
However, the first step – before procurement can begin and contracts are awarded to suppliers – is to identify precisely the areas that should not benefit from gigabit speeds within the framework of existing commercial constructions, which covers plans related for the next 3 years. This is known as a Open Market Review (OMR). Only when you have the answer to this question can you identify where public funding will be needed to help address the market failure.
In Wales current gigabit-enabled broadband coverage is well below at just 46.40% by the end of 2021 (compared to 65.27% in the UK), although this figure will continue to grow thanks to major network extensions underway Fiber to the premises (FTTP) by Openreach (here), Ogi (here), Netomnia (here) and Virgin Media etc.
Last year, the British government tentatively estimated that “until” 234,000 hard-to-reach rural households and businesses Wales may need state aid under the new scheme to extend the coverage of related connectivity (here). The Welsh Government (WG) has since completed the required OMR and found that the planned commercial coverage will reach approximately 681,950 premises over the next 3 years.
REMARK: Commercial roll out is likely to cover locations such as Aberdare, Abergavenny, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Barry, Bridgend, Caerphilly, Cardiff, Carmarthen, Cwmbran, Llandudno, Llanelli, Newport, Pontypridd, Port Talbot, Prestatyn, Pwllheli, Rhyl, Swansea, Welshpool and Wrexham.
OMR also identified that this would leave the rest 327,174 premises without access to gigabit-capable broadband and mark 657,632 additional premises as ‘In the study‘. The latter reflects premises where providers have reported planned commercial broadband coverage, but where those plans have been deemed by OMR to be potentially at risk of not being realized.
The BDUK agency has now launched the final phase of public relations before procurement can begin, which aims to validate the outcome of the previous SEO. Additionally, any vendors (network builders) that failed or were not yet ready with their plans to respond to the earlier OMR phase can still respond through the final PR phase in order to be included. This is important because today’s market is changing rapidly, with new networks and deployment plans seeming to pop up quite frequently.
The new PR for Wales will be open for industry/vendor responses until 6th May 2022. Hopefully once this is complete we will have a better idea of how much funding will be led by the Gigabit Project to help Wales close what appears to be quite a significant coverage gap. Not to mention answering the question of when the related contracts might finally be awarded (we’re worried it might take until 2025 to reach that point).
Wales public review for Project Gigabit