A Montgomeryshire Broadband Summit, hosted by local Assembly Member, Russell George, was held this week (Monday 17th July) at the Elephant & Castle Hotel in Newtown.
Mr George, who has long campaigned for improved broadband coverage in North Powys, hosted the Summit at which community leaders and representatives from across Montgomeryshire met to hear from the Welsh Government’s Minister for Skills & Science, Julie James AM, who has overall responsibility for the Superfast Cymru fibre broadband scheme.
Mrs James was followed by the BT Director of the Superfast Cymru scheme, Ed Hunt, to address community leaders and answer questions about the Superfast Cymru scheme as well as to discuss plans to improve broadband coverage after the current scheme reaches its conclusion at the end of 2017.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr George said:
“I was delighted that the Minister took the time to attend this important broadband summit which provided an invaluable opportunity for community leaders from across Montgomeryshire to communicate their frustrations about the way in which the Superfast Cymru project has been deployed in North Powys.
“It remains a significant concern to me that many rural communities across Montgomeryshire appear to be excluded from the fibre broadband upgrade or, at the very least, are at the back of the queue when it comes to receiving superfast speeds.
“While the Superfast Cymru project has undoubtedly improved the availability of fibre broadband across Wales benefitting both residents and businesses, there are many areas of Montgomeryshire which still find themselves with inadequate broadband.
“The reality is that we, in North Powys, are some way off from receiving universal access to next generation broadband. The goalposts have been repeatedly moved and businesses have been unable to plan for the future.
“One of the most frustrating issues for residents is being told one month that they’ll have access to fibre broadband by a certain date, only to be told a few weeks later that there are significant further delays or in some cases, won’t receive it at all, due to familiar reasons including "distance from the cabinet", "unforeseen technical and engineering issues" or "the need to provide additional capacity at the exchange". This has resulted in an underlying scepticism over the overall success of the project to deliver on its original promise.
“Montgomeryshire can no longer afford to be the poor relation when it comes to fibre broadband and this Summit was an opportunity for us to press the Welsh Government and BT to bring forward a successor scheme which will extend superfast broadband to every property and business in Mid Wales and learn from the mistakes which have characterised the Superfast Cymru scheme’s public communications.”
County Councillor for Llandinam, Cllr Karl Lewis, added:
“I’m grateful to Russell for hosting this important meeting which gave me an opportunity to champion my constituents’ concerns and frustrations.
“Connectivity is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ when it comes to living and working in Mid Wales. For many people and businesses, it is now considered an essential service – like water and electricity.
“More and more people are getting connected at increasingly high speeds which is clearly great news, but a consequence of this improvement is that there is a frustration and a sense of injustice which grows in those left behind.
“This week’s Broadband Summit left both the Minister and BT under no illusions about our expectations and I know that Russell will continue to be at the forefront in pressing for everyone to benefit from enhanced digital connectivity at the earliest opportunity.”