Better Broadband & Mobile

Better Broadband & Mobile

Updated: May 2024

Rural areas of Wales have a poorer service than built up towns and cities when it comes to broadband and mobile connection. The advancement of technology and the regular need for good connectivity for work and leisure, means that reliable mobile signal and broadband are no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Throughout my time as your local representative in the Senedd, I have campaigned for better broadband and mobile connectivity for Montgomeryshire. Although good progress has been made, there is more work to do.

Mobile

Craig Williams MP and I have been supporting plans for 16 new mobile masts across Montgomeryshire. These Emergency Services Network (ESN) masts are the new 4G critical communications system for Britain’s emergency services.

Key infrastructure is being delivered by EE through upgrades to its existing network of around 19,000 masts and building approximately 700 more 4G masts. In addition, the Home Office is supplementing this by building 292 masts to give the emergency services 4G mobile network coverage in some of the most rural and remote parts of Britain. This will mean significantly improved mobile connectivity for us in Mid Wales.

The UK Government recognises the need to improve everyone’s mobile connection and Extended Area Services (EAS) masts will be shared with the Shared Rural Network (SRN) which is being delivered by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS).

The UK Government is funding upgrades to EAS sites to enable mobile network operators to provide commercial mobile coverage as part of the SRN programme. The infrastructure is part of the world-first Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme between the UK Government and the UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs), which will see 4G coverage boosted to 95% across Wales. The programme will also allow us in Mid Wales to access competing mobile contracts, with coverage boosted for all major network providers.

Progress on all the new masts is going well, with all due to be activated by the end of 2024 at the latest, and five have already been brought online.

Masts that have come online or will come online in 2024:

1. Y Fan, Llanidloes 

2. Old Hall (SY18), Llanidloes

3. Llangynog

4. Staylittle

5. Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant

Eleven masts will be built at sites in:

1. Hafren Forest, Llanidloes - Late 2024

2. Manafon, Welshpool - Late 2024

3. Rhiwargor - Mid 2024

4. Lake Vyrnwy, Llanwddyn - Late 2024 

5. Ty'n-y-ffynon, Lake Vyrnwy - Late 2024

6. Maengwynedd, Oswestry - Early 2024

7. Llanfyllin - Early 2024

8. Tregynon - Early 2024

9. Bettws Cedewain - Early 2024

10. Aberhosan, Machynleth - Late 2024

11. Hirnant, Abertrdwr - Mid 2024

Along with Craig Williams MP, I will be keeping in close contact with the Home Office and will provide updates on the progress of these sites on this campaign page. I also regularly speak with mobile providers to emphasise the importance of providing commercial service through these masts as Montgomeryshire residents have suffered poor connection for too long.

Broadband

Significant progress is being made, with many more homes now able to access good broadband speeds, but many homes in Powys still suffer from poor connection. In Montgomeryshire, over 89% of premises can access superfast (>=30 Mbps) broadband, and 61% have access to a gigabit-capable (>1000 Mbps) connection. This is below both the national average of almost 98% for superfast coverage and the national average of 81% for gigabit coverage.  

I regularly meet with industry representatives and when I met up with industry regulator, Ofcom, we discussed the legal right that homes and businesses in Montgomeryshire have to request a decent and affordable broadband service of at least 10 mb/s, under the Universal Service Obligation for Broadband. I met with Openreach several times during 2023 who emphasised their commitment to bringing ultrafast broadband to communities across mid Wales.  Openreach outlined to me their commitment to the full fibre broadband expansion in Powys. They also introduced me to the new Subtended Headend Exchange (SHE) technology, which extends the Full Fibre network to isolated areas and is being deployed by Openreach.

I am also in regularly in contact with Building Digital UK (BDUK), which is the UK Government department responsible for the roll out of gigabit-capable broadband and the expansion of 4G mobile coverage in hard-to-reach areas of the UK. They work with suppliers and communities to ensure that people can access fast and reliable digital connectivity that can transform their lives.

BDUK have updated me on the rollout of ‘Project gigabit’ across Montgomeryshire and on the recent news of Broadway Group entering administration. I have been assured that areas which have already been identified as having voucher priority status, and which have not yet been connected, will remain eligible for UK Government funding. Project Gigabit is a £5 billion UK government infrastructure project aimed at delivering fast and reliable gigabit-capable broadband to homes and businesses in the hardest-to-reach parts of the UK. This replaces the Welsh Governments Superfast Cymru scheme.

BDUK are procuring contracts to deliver gigabit-capable broadband to areas that are unlikely to be reached by suppliers’ commercial plans alone. Montgomeryshire is included in a cross-regional procurement covering North West, Mid and South East Wales which was launched last year. Their cross-regional approach is designed to reach premises in areas where we have established there is insufficient market appetite to support a local or regional intervention.  

Residents and businesses in Kerry, Llanbrynmair and Tregynon were the first areas in Montgomeryshire to be able to apply for free Gigabit vouchers worth £4,500, which will be used by Openreach towards building an Ultrafast Full Fibre network within these areas. More can be found here: Ultrafast broadband chance for people living in Tregynon, Llanbrynmair & Kerry in Powys (openreach.com)

I understand from officials that there are currently, another five live voucher projects in your constituency and that collectively these projects cover approximately 4,500 premises. These voucher projects have been designated as Voucher Priority Areas and are able to proceed alongside the cross-regional procurement. I can confirm that there are live voucher projects in Berriew, Church Stoke, Llangynog and Pennant, Llanrhaeader, and a small part of Snead (as part of a project based around Bishop’s Castle in England). 

The schemes will be rolled out in other areas next year, potentially connecting over 47,000 properties across Mid Wales to Ultrafast broadband speeds. 

Accessing funding does not cost anything for individual properties but does mean a minimum term of 12 months with a chosen supplier. Over 1,100 properties could have access improved as a result of this great scheme. Applications for vouchers can be made at https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/. You can read more about the UK Governments Gigabit voucher scheme here: Connect my community | Openreach.

Voip:

What is VOIP? Essentially, landlines in the UK are going digital. The existing analogue technology (the PSTN - Public Switched Telephone Network) which has supported phone and broadband services for decades is being retired and switched off.

By the end of January 2027, the vast majority of customers will be provided with a broadband line, making calls the same as they do today,  but using ‘Voice over IP’ technology that uses an internet connection. 

Digital landlines will be easier to maintain according to providers and will underpin many of the new digital services for homes and businesses, providing a better service for customers.

The switch from analogue to digital landlines  has already started in many countries including Germany, France, Australia and Japan and is seen as a key step towards preparing the country for a Full Fibre future, in support of the UK Government’s gigabit connectivity ambitions. 

This may sound like a daunting move to many customers who are used to the old line or who are elderly and/or vulnerable. Customers who are moving to VoIP services and are reliant on their landline should discuss their situation and requirements for a back-up solution with their provider before they are moved on to VoIP services. Last year, the government was made aware of some serious shortcomings in how the telecoms industry managed the migration. As a result, the Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, convened a meeting in December 2023 with the UK’s leading telecoms providers such as Sky, BT, VMO2 and TalkTalk to discuss ways to improve the protection of vulnerable households throughout the migration. In response, the major telecoms providers have now signed a Charter committing to concrete measures to protect vulnerable households. As set out in the Charter, Communications Providers will work towards having longer commitments in place beyond the minimum one hour. This is a positive step which will help to make sure safety continues to be at the heart of the nationwide switchover. The Charter can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-switched-telephone-network-charter. 

I have been made aware that the following protections are in place for customers:

  • For BT customers that don’t or can’t yet access broadband at home alongside their voice services, they are introducing a new dedicated landline service for them.  This won’t require any in-home changes at all and it will continue to provide a powered line. This isn’t available for broadband customers, as the technology we’re deploying cannot support it on the same line. It’s an interim solution until 2030 at the latest.  We will start making this available from October this year.
  • Unless you elect to move, BT won’t switch vulnerable customers until spring 2025 at the earliest.  And they will only move telecare users when they can check that their device continues to function after the switch – they expect to be able to do this early next year.  BT have started to move non-vulnerable customers who don’t use their landline at all and they expect to start scaling up migrations later in the summer.  Where full fibre is available, they will move customers to this future-proofed network and all customers will receive extensive information about the change well in advance of their switchover day. 
  • BT will continue to provide free, additional support for vulnerable customers and those who don’t have a mobile phone or live in areas with no coverage (and so cannot rely on their mobile in the event of a power cut).  This includes free engineer in-home installations, a free ‘hybrid’ phone (which automatically switches over to the mobile network should the fixed connection go down) and/or a free battery back-up unit to keep equipment running during a power cut. They will soon be making available an even better battery back-up unit to give greater peace of mind to customers that they will be able to make emergency calls during a power outage. 
  • BT will intensify their customer awareness and information campaign.  BT tell me that they plan to build on their regional engagement programme – where they run hundreds of face-to-face events, meet thousands of customers and run local media campaigns – committing to visit every part of the UK at least once more. The  Digital Voice Advisory Group, composed of charities and customer representative organisations, will continue to act as a critical sounding board for our approach and we continue to build new charity partnerships across the country to help with awareness raising.  And they have co-founded a new Telecare Action Board, with the telecare sector, local authorities and UK Government, to ensure they’re protecting telecare users – and BT say that they also want, with other providers and with UK Government support, to launch a dedicated, national telecare awareness campaign.

What options are available in Mid Wales:

Mobile/4G Broadband solution:

A broadband router can be installed to connect your property to broadband via a 4G mobile network. It doesn’t mean using a mobile phone and you don’t need cables or a phone line. An external antenna can be attached to the side of your property in areas where a 4G signal might not be strong indoors. There are now also unlimited data packages available with a number of providers. 

Satellite Connection:

A satellite transfers data to and from a dish attached to your property to bring you broadband. This provides superfast download speeds and should be available everywhere. A satellite connection usually charges include a one-off fee to install broadcast equipment and a fixed term contract paid by a monthly subscription. More information is available at: > ISP Review - Satellite Broadband ISPs  

Community Broadband solution:

This enables properties to fund a superfast broadband solution as part of a group project. Information about setting up a community broadband project can be found on the Powys County Council community led broadband page. 

Access to Broadband scheme:

This scheme provides grants to fund (or part-fund) the installation costs of new broadband connections for homes and businesses in Wales. It does not include monthly rental costs. New connections through this scheme must deliver a significant change in speed. The new connection must at least double your current download speeds. The amount of funding which you can receive depends on the speed of the new connection: £400 for 10 Mb/s and above. £800 for 30 Mb/s and above. Before applying to this scheme, you should check your eligibility with Ofcom and Openreach to see if you can already access a fast broadband service via the following links:

https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/en-gb/broadband-coverage

https://www.openreach.com/fibre-broadband/ultrafast-full-fibre-broadband#fibrechecker

You should also consider what speed connection your home or business requires today and over the next 12 months. Finally, you should choose an internet service provider (ISP) which can meet the needs which you have identified and get a written quotation from them. You will need to submit evidence of these steps with your application.

Using this application form: https://gov.wales/access-broadband-cymru-application-form. Once the form has been completed, you should send this to broadband@gov.wales.