Mid Wales is a hub of innovative business and enterprising people. Poor 3G and 4G mobile signal and lack of high speed broadband are holding the local economy back.
The Superfast Cymru project has undoubtedly been successful in delivering fibre broadband to many homes and businesses across Powys but the consequence of that improvement is that there's a deep sense of injustice that grows for those that are left behind, and this sense of injustice has been made worse by continual delays, poor communication and a lack of capacity that has left a significant minority of residents wondering whether they will ever get the upgrade that they have been repeatedly promised.
Essentially, Openreach have run out of time to complete all of the premises which were previously in scope for an upgrade as part of the Superfast Cymru project which ended on 31st December 2017.
There was no contractual obligation to complete individual premises which exposes the significant weaknesses in the design of the original contract and the Welsh Government have repeatedly said that they did not "promise" any individual home or business a connection, and only say that it was "scheduled". I believe that this is a matter of semantics and many people feel that they have been misled and let down.
Openreach requested a two month extension to the scheme so that they can complete the 2500 premises across Wales which were "very close to completion."
If you're not one of those 2500 premises, it will be essential that you are automatically transferred over into the next contract, the procurement process for which was announced in January. I have asked the Welsh Government Minister for a detailed list and map showing which premises are included in the next scheme which will spend £80 million to enable a further 88,000 premises across Wales.
However, it ought to be noted that even if you are on the list for the next scheme, the Welsh Government is unwilling to provide a cast iron guarantee for individuals, citing the usual caveats about “unforeseen engineering and technical challenges,” which the Welsh Government say make it impossible to provide absolute guarantees to the remaining individuals. I find this unacceptable as it provides little or no clarity to those who now find themselves left in the lurch.
This is an issue which is dominating my postbag at the moment and I am continually exerting pressure on both the Welsh Government and Openreach to provide us all with some clarity so that the people of Montgomeryshire know where they stand. I will continue to campaign for broadband connectivity to be universal for the people of Montgomeryshire and not a postcode lottery.
If you would like me to investigate your individual circumstances, please get in touch with me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 01686 610887.
The lack of mobile signal along with broadband has always been an issue for Montgomeryshire and rural Wales which is why, when I became an Assembly Member, I set up the National Assembly Cross Party Group on Digital Communications in an effort to bring together operators and other interested parties to improve the situation.
There will always be challenges for rural areas in providing mobile coverage due to the lack of a dense population and the topography of the area, making it difficult to build and position masts for the best signal coverage for a particular area. The operators, however, have specific targets to meet. For example, O2 has confirmed that they have an obligation of providing 4G to a minimum of 95% of Wales and are also looking at upgrading their 2G and 3G networks.
With regards to future coverage improvements, all operators are in agreement that, although they are in competition with one another for customers, they need to work together with other public bodies i.e. UK Government, Welsh Government and Local Authorities, to improve and build the future infrastructure needed.
In my view, current planning policies are far too restrictive in order to meet customer demands. Therefore, current regulations and barriers to planning need to change. There is also a need for customer, political and economic pressure to be applied to help push for improved coverage and service.
You can be assured that our MP Glyn Davies and I will continue to lobby the UK Government and Welsh Government. Partial not spots also need to be looked at and addressed as it is essential that we have access to good and reliable mobile and broadband services that are fit for the 21st Century.
I will also be keeping a close eye on future commitments made by the network operators and will support them in any discussions to build new infrastructure appropriate for the area.