Friday, June 08, 2012

Wales broadband policy update

The starting point for current broadband developments in Wales is the Welsh Government's strategy paper Delivering a Digital Wales, published in December 2010 (see this previous post). This set out the following ambitions for broadband infrastructure:
"The aim is to achieve near universal access to a basic level of broadband throughout Wales by the time that a new UK-wide universal service commitment for broadband is introduced. These activities will therefore support the UK Government’s intention to introduce new Universal Service Commitment (USC) of 2Mbps across the UK by 2015. We will ensure that our relationship with UK Government’s Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) is clearly articulated and is sufficiently robust to influence UK Government decisions on investment and activity via the delivery of the Commitment in Wales. The introduction of the Universal Service Commitment enables the Welsh Assembly Government to look towards the future and concentrate on next generation broadband services."
The strategy looks beyond the USC and 2015 to 2016 and 2020 (in keeping with the EU's ambitions) as target dates for next generation and ultra-fast broadband availability:
"We...believe an ambitious, yet reasonable, challenge to the private sector is to think beyond the limitations of the current infrastructure and to work with us to rapidly achieve full access to ultra-fast broadband throughout Wales...We will seek to ensure that market led private investment in next generation broadband and additional next generation deployment through public sector intervention, will together deliver high-speed broadband services throughout Wales. We expect that all businesses in Wales will have access to next generation broadband by the middle of 2016, and that all households will be enabled by 2020. Furthermore, 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."
The strategy also acknowledged the importance of the Public Sector Broadband Aggregration (PSBA) project as a foundation for future developments:
"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...(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."
In January 2011 the Welsh Government held a workshop for potential suppliers, providing more information about the project, its scope and detailed briefings on strategic, commercial and technical aspects (presentation here). This was followed in February 2011 with the commencement of a formal procurement process (prior information notice here and contract notice here):
"The primary aim of the project is to ensure that: (i) all businesses in Wales have access to a minimum of 30 Mbps by the middle of 2016, (ii) all residential premises in Wales have access to a minimum of 30 Mbps by the end of 2020 and (iii) a minimum of 50 % of all residential and business premises in Wales will have access to 100 Mbps by 2020."
As part of this, in March 2011 an Open Market Review was undertaken to "understand where private sector investment in next generation networks across Wales has already happened or is planned in the next three years. The information will help Welsh Ministers determine where the deployment of next generation broadband networks should be focussed." Also in March 2011 the Welsh Government published the Digital Wales: Delivery Plan, which sets out the detail of how the vision for Wales set out in the previous strategy document will be achieved. This included specific targets for increasing digital participation (for example, to reduce digital exclusion amongst people aged 50 and older from 49% (515,000) in 2010 to 45% (473,000) by 2012 and to 40% (421,000) by 2015) and reiterated the commitment to the EU's 2020 targets for broadband.

In June 2011 the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategy for the Public Sector in Wales was published, again highlighting the success and continued importance of the PSBA project. An update on the procurement that began in February 2011 came in December 2011, with the announcement that the competitive dialogue process had commenced. This was followed in January 2012 with the announcement of the second phase of the market review that began in March 2011, with further comments invited in relation to the proposed intervention areas, as mapped here. Also in January 2012 both ISP Review and ThinkBroadband reported that BT were now the only remaining major bidder in the procurement process for NGA in Wales following Fujitsu's withdrawal from the process, echoing a previous similar development in Scotland in relation to the Highlands and Islands project. Ironically the annual report of the Digital Advisory Board, also published in January 2012, highlighted the importance of encouraging a consortium approach versus a single supplier.

In February 2012 an extension to the Broadband Support Scheme designed to tackle and eradicate broadband notspots in Wales was announced. In May 2012 the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP) was published (press release here), which included the following in relation to broadband, as one of seven high level investment priorities:
"Improving telecommunications networks and assuring all parts of Wales have access to adequate broadband facilities for their economic needs – the Next Generation Broadband Programme investment in communications infrastructure will stimulate a thriving and competitive digital economy. It will support growth through wide scale application, innovation, commercialisation and exploitation of digital technologies by Welsh businesses, and particularly the ICT and Creative Industries sectors."
The plan also set out the total amount of investment expected:
"The total value of the Next Generation Broadband investment is anticipated to be up to £400m, combining funding of around £57m from UK Government and £70m from European sources with Welsh Government funding in order to leverage significant investment from the private sector. This investment in communications infrastructure will stimulate a thriving and competitive digital economy. It will support growth through wide-scale application, innovation, commercialisation and exploitation of digital technologies by Welsh businesses, and particularly the ICT and Creative Industries sectors."
Commentary from ISP Review suggests that a contract between the Welsh Government and BT is "now certain to be signed this summer 2012."

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