The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how important digital connectivity is to everyone. It is no longer a nice to have luxury. A reliable broadband and mobile phone connection are now considered as the “fourth utility” and are vital as we work from home more often and are essential for children who are being home-schooled.
I have been at the forefront of the campaign to bring fibre broadband and mobile phone connectivity to all communities in Montgomeryshire. While it would be wrong to suggest that there hasn’t been a lot of progress over the last few years and it is fantastic news that more than 85% of residents are now able to benefit from superfast broadband coverage and almost a quarter can benefit from ultrafast speeds via fibre to the premises, I’m fully aware that there is still a long way to go for the many rural areas of North Powys, so the campaign goes on to extend digital connectivity to more and more communities until such time as we can all enjoy the benefits of digital connectivity.
Homes and businesses in Montgomeryshire now have a new legal right to request a decent and affordable broadband service of at least 10 megabits per second under the new Universal Service Obligation for Broadband, and the regulator, Ofcom, believes that approximately 12.5% of all premises in Montgomeryshire could potentially benefit from it. You can check your eligibility at www.bt.com/uso
Grant funding is also available via the Community Fibre Partnership Scheme and the Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme. Please contact me for more information on these programmes.
When it comes to mobile coverage, Montgomeryshire continues to lag behind the Wales and UK average and I have ongoing discussions with all mobile network operators, highlighting areas where there is no mobile signal at all.
However, in a welcome development, the UK Government has announced a £1 billion proposal to build a Shared Rural Network that would see mobile coverage extended to 95% of the UK’s landmass. We have seen new planning policy and updated guidance in England and Scotland which has helped prepare for 5G deployment and speed up the process for new mobile phone masts in appropriate locations. The Welsh Government also needs to put this in place here in Wales and we need an updated accord with National Parks that recognises the importance of digital connectivity to the residents, businesses and visitors to these sensitive rural areas.
I will also continue to press the Welsh Government to use the devolved policy levers at their disposal and commit to a public date by which much needed reforms will be delivered so that Mid Wales doesn’t fall further behind.