What has happened to Superfast Cymru broadband millions?

An MP has called for more openness over the way BT has spent hundreds of millions of pounds in public funding on the roll-out of high speed broadband.

David Davies said the £425m Superfast Cymru project - set up to connect 96 per cent of homes and businesses in Wales - had failed to deliver.

The Monmouth MP and Welsh Affairs Committee chair spoke out after visiting Hendre Glyn Farm in Upper Llanover, where dire internet speeds of just 0.08Mbps are having a detrimental impact on farmer Alan Williams’ rural business.

While the farm remains scheduled to be connected under the Superfast Cymru scheme using fibre to the cabinet (FttC) technology - which sees the local roadside cabinet enabled for fibre broadband with properties receiving superfast connections from it - the completion date has slipped from June 2017 to the end of December.

In the meantime, Mr Williams has been told he can have high speed broadband installed immediately - but only if he pays BT between £9,384 and £10,284 per year for a leased line.

Welsh Government Skills and Science Minister Julie James said FttC technology is, where possible, chosen to allow the greatest number of properties to benefit from superfast broadband for the lowest cost to the public purse.

In a letter to Mr Davies, she explained: “The provision of a dedicated fibre connection to a property by BT is indeed available under their normal commercial operations. Ordinarily this will see a fibre to the property (FttP) connection provided, with a line brought directly to the property from the local exchange.

“This bespoke commercial service will see considerable civil and technical engineering required which, in turn, will dictate a higher price for the customer.  

“The Superfast Cymru project aims to provide access to superfast broadband to the greatest number of properties whilst keeping within its allocated budget. As such, we are not in a position to provide FttP connectivity to all premises within the project’s intervention area “on demand”.

“I fully understand the frustrations of Mr Williams having to wait until December for a superfast broadband connection under the Superfast Cymru project. However, if a dedicated FttP line is something that he requires immediately then, unfortunately, this will be reflected in a higher personal outlay.”

Mr Williams said it was “grossly unfair” to ask him to pay such a significant fee in order to access a sufficient broadband service when the Superfast Cymru scheme could not deliver within a satisfactory timeframe and there had been “endless delays”.

“Surely if they can do this for one single line, this can be achieved to supply fibre broadband to everyone between the exchange and us, therefore reducing the overall cost?” he argued.

Mr Davies said questions needed to be asked about what has happened to the public money BT received to bring superfast broadband to rural areas.

“The whole point of the Superfast Cymru scheme was that BT would receive £425m in return for connecting the vast majority of premises in Wales to next-generation broadband,” he said.

“But for many people across Monmouthshire, broadband is still either super slow or non-existent – while others have been told they can only be connected if they pay an extortionate premium to BT.

“If there is some technical reason why people cannot be connected, they should be told so they can look at other technologies. If there is no technological barrier, then BT has had the money so connections should be made.

“This is an issue which I hope the Welsh Affairs Committee will examine during the forthcoming parliamentary session.”