The Welsh government has opened the tender process for the Superfast Cymru Infill Project, which is intended to bring superfast broadband to businesses in parts of Wales that the current broadband rollout will not reach.
In its tender document, the Welsh government said the current £425m Superfast Cymru contract will not reach 100% of premises in Wales by the end of June 2016 due to a number of problems reported by BT.
These include legacy network architecture, such as exchange-only lines preventing the deployment of BT’s standard product; low forecast revenue density for standard product development in business parks where BT has a large installed base of leased line customers; and the high cost of deploying standard products, which may exceed cost-per-premise expectations.
The Welsh government said it had accepted these were all genuine issues and to this end had decided to procure a new project to extend superfast services to these areas, promoting the maximum possible competition, and that met the necessary compliance requirements with the European Commission state aid decision.
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“The Superfast Infill Project complements the already extensive Superfast Cymru programme, and part of the first stage will look at bringing fast fibre broadband to business premises by June 2016," said a Welsh government spokesperson.
"We are also currently in negotiations with BT to add the remaining unserved – so-called 'white' – premises which we identified in the recent open market review to the scope of Superfast Cymru.
"There will be a second stage to the infill project which will look at addressing the remaining premises in Wales which will not have superfast broadband by 2016.
“We believe that the business premises identified in the tender package are of real interest to the market, and we anticipate that there will be keen competition to secure this contract."
We believe that the business premises identified in the tender package are of real interest to the market
Welsh Government spokesperson
The spokesperson added that the infill project may end up using additional grant aid funding above and beyond that secured for Superfast Cymru.
The seven-year contracts, estimated to be worth between £1m and £3m, will be split into two lots – North Wales and South Wales. Tenders are due by 23 May 2015.
Reaching those areas of the UK that are too remote to be viable for BT to address under the BDUK scheme has been a source of much debate in recent months, particularly in light of a recent Select Committee report that criticised the government’s mandated speed targets – 2Mbps for all and 24Mbps for superfast – for not being ambitious enough.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee investigated superfast broadband in rural areas after Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) applications moved to an online-only model, prompting many to raise the concern many farmers working in more remote properties would not be able to source often vital EU funding.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has been road-testing a number of schemes intended to address the remotest of the remote, and it is understood it will be moving forward with a number of solutions soon.