Thursday, January 27, 2011

Delivering a Digital Wales


Some interesting extracts from Delivering a Digital Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government's broadband strategy document published last month. The underpinning ambition of the strategy is:
“To deliver all the benefits of digital technology, we expect that all businesses in Wales will have access to superfast broadband by the middle of 2016, and all households by 2020.”
Just as the UK strategy does, the strategy for Wales recognises that the drive to deliver universality should not be separated from the drive to deliver NGA. This is the first time I've seen separate targets for businesses and households in such a strategy. Also noteworthy is that the strategy nails its colours to the mast by defining a bandwidth for its vision of NGA:
“…we will ensure that any next generation broadband infrastructure funded through public sector intervention will be capable of delivering broadband services of at least 30Mbps, and ideally 100Mbps, to avoid the need for repeat investment at a later date.”
So by 2020 all households should be able to access 30Mbps, with 50% of businesses and households able to access 100Mbps, in line with the targets set out in the European Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe. Though the 2016 target for business is significantly more ambitious that the EC's target. The strategy for Wales also includes much more specific recognition of the importance of broadband for education than Britain's Superfast Broadband Future does, and it's also interesting that the potential for consolidating and re-using existing agenda is presented without the caveats that accompanied this idea in the UK strategy:
"Our vision for success is an inclusive, prosperous Digital Wales expressed in 2020 as:…Digital Wales has transformed learning. Education services have used digital technology to create entirely new teaching and learning experiences as well as enhancing existing ones...A coherent pan-Wales approach to public service infrastructure will provide the underpinning services that need to be put in place to collect, store and share information securely and confidentially. One major component is already in place in the Public Sector Broadband Aggregation (PSBA) network. This network is recognised globally as presenting a huge strategic advantage for future collaborative service delivery as well as offering the potential to influence local broadband availability in communities served by the PSBA. We will expect public sector organisations to focus on the strategic benefits of using the PSBA and accelerate its widespread adoption. Teaching and learning will be transformed through digital technology so schools in particular need to invest in higher speed fibre-based facilities unless there is an overwhelming case not to…(The) PSBA (is) One of the first totally integrated Public Sector Networks in the UK, connecting more than 2000 sites across Unitary Authorities, Hospitals, General Practitioners, Universities, Further Education Colleges, Emergency Services, and a growing number of organisations funded by the public sector.”
The importance of the public sector as an intelligent commissioner of broadband infrastructure is also acknowledged, something I concur very strongly with:
“We wish to set a challenging, yet meaningful communications infrastructure ambition for Wales. Achieving this ambition will require a sensible balance between wholly private led infrastructure deployment and private sector deployment that is facilitated by public sector behaviour.”
Don't get me wrong, there's much to praise in both strategies, but the differences between them are as interesting as their similarities.

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