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The Welsh Government is set to spend up to £80m on a superfast broadband delivery programme with the intention of connecting every residential and business premises in Wales by 2020.
The programme will succeed the Superfast Cymru Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, which has already passed 614,000 premises with a basic 24Mbps – the UK government definition of superfast – broadband service.
The BDUK scheme has cost the Welsh government £162m of public funding, with £62m more to be spent before the project wraps up in 2017, alongside an additional £12.9m from the gain-share mechanism in the current contract, which returns money to the pot based on user take-up.
The Welsh Government has committed £20m in its budget over the next four years, £20m from European Union (EU) funding, £37m from gain-share, and a £2m outstanding commitment from Westminster. It said this investment would in turn leverage private sector match funding to get the job done.
Minister for science and skills Julie James said while the Superfast Cymru project had been relatively successful, there was still more to do.
“Our commitment in our Programme for Government, Taking Wales Forward, is to offer fast reliable broadband to every property in Wales. That is why we are looking at investing up to £80m in the next stage to bring faster broadband to those final hard to reach areas,” said James.
“The funding package, once more, includes European funding. We are in the early stages of the application process, but remain confident that the funding will be available, subject to WEFO approval, as a result of the UK Treasury’s guarantee to honour EU bids approved prior to exit from the EU.”
The Welsh Government will now embark on an Open Market Review, to be conducted in the next few weeks, to determine where so-called superfast broadband is now available and where it is not. This data will inform the new scheme, delivery of which is expected to start in January 2018.
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However, members of the Welsh assembly have criticised the existing scheme for being poorly planned and marketed. In a debate on 2 November 2016, Plaid Cymru’s Dai Lloyd said less than a third of those who could potentially receive a service as a result of Superfast Cymru were taking one.
According to the BBC, the Conservatives’ Russell George said the Welsh government had “failed to deliver” on its original targets and accused both the government and BT of not being bothered to try to sell the project.