Updated 8th March 2023
Rural areas of Wales have a poorer service than built up towns and cities when it comes to broadband and mobile connection. The pandemic shined a light on how much we regularly rely on good connectivity to work, connect with family & friends and for leisure. Strong and reliable connectivity is now a necessity and is no longer a ‘luxury’.
Throughout my time as a Senedd member, I have campaigned for better broadband and mobile connectivity for Montgomeryshire. Although good progress has been made, there is more work to do.
The Shared Rural Network, developed by the four major mobile network operators, aims to deliver 4G to 95% of the UK by 2025. In Mid Wales, there will be expected to be coverage by all four major network operators to 78% of homes and 98% from at least one major network operator.
I have regularly met with network providers to ask for an update on their plans and to press them to prioritise Mid Wales. Over the Summer of 2022, when I last met with providers, they reassured me that work is planned to significantly improve connectivity in Montgomeryshire.
The Home Office confirmed in November 2022 that sixteen new EAS masts will be erected across the length of the constituency, which once live will provide crucial emergency services and 4G coverage, eliminating the majority of mobile signal ‘not-spots’ within Montgomeryshire.
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 rural residents to access competing mobile contracts, with coverage boosted for all major network providers.
Planning approval has now been completed for sites at Y Fan; Old Hall (SY18); Hafren Forest; Manafon; Rhiwargor; Llangynog; Lake Vyrnwy; Llanwddyn; Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant; Maengwynedd; Llanfyllin; Staylittle; Tregynon and Bettws Cedewain. Two further masts will also be built on sites at Aberhosan and Hirnant, with all mast sites set to be activated by the end of 2024 at the latest.
Once mast builds are completed and powered, they will be transferred to EE for connection to the core network and activated for the Emergency Services Network. All MNOs will then have the opportunity to provide commercial services to the masts through the SRN programme.
Significant progress is being made, with many more homes now able to access good broadband speeds, but many homes in Powys suffer from extremely slow broadband speeds, or with no access to broadband at all.
20 per cent of properties can now access “ultrafast” broadband – with speeds of 300 megabits per second (mb/s) or more.This is up from 11 per cent five years ago. While new fibre broadband has improved internet speeds for many, some communities remain at risk of being left behind.
I regularly meet with industry representatives and in my meeting in September 2022, 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.
Openreach have announced an ambition to build full fibre to reach 25 million homes across the UK by December 2026. This includes rural areas as well as major cities and towns.
However, Openreach’s plans will not serve all rural communities. A fibre based broadband connection is not the only option available.
Other technologies are available and widely advancing, meaning solutions that may have been discounted before, may now be an option for some communities.
A meeting with Openreach, Ofcom, and councillors in February yielded possible solutions for those properties that have been "bypassed" by new infrastructure to the frustration of residents. This involves residents getting together to bid for full fibre. This would involve working with a provider and applying for vouchers that reduces cost for residents. A good lead party for this would be the local community council.
You can check what options are available for your area here: https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/en-gb/broadband-coverage
Some parts of Montgomeryshire are using a range of other technologies, and I frequently support communities and work with businesses which provide these types of solutions.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.