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Monday, February 08, 2016

Can Wales catch up as a super connected nation?

Connectivity is the key to a successful economy in the twenty first century and that does not just mean roads, railways and airplanes. We spend a lot of time in the Welsh Assembly talking about the proposed M4 by-pass around Newport, Cardiff airport and the electrification of the main line. All of these are important, but so is  superfast broadband and increasingly, the availability of 4G and 3G mobile communications. In both areas Wales is struggling to keep up.

Today's Telegraph underlines the importance of digital communications to our economic success. They report on a survey by the Engineering Employers Federation which found that nearly half of companies in business parks were unable to access speeds above 10Mega Bits per second:

The federation warned that the poor state of digital infrastructure was threatening Britain’s ability to take advantage of the “fourth industrial revolution”.

It warned that many manufacturers were “fearful poor digital connectivity may prove a drag on future growth”.

A survey found that while two thirds reported their connectivity was acceptable, more than half of companies “say connectivity [is] not adequate for future needs”.

Half of companies said connection costs have gone up in the past two years.

Lee Hopley, the federation’s chief economist, said: “While the quality of networks isn’t an issue, companies are paying inflated sums to have proper access and are fearful they will not have competitive access five years down the line.”

The federation urged the Government to prioritise internet access for businesses, complaining that currently it is too focused on households.

But it is not just business parks where this is a problem, nor does poor internet access only blight rural areas. Homeworkers are also affected, whilst parts of urban areas such as Cardiff can only dream of 10 megabits. As an example here is a question I asked the First Minister last Tuesday:

Peter Black First Minister, can I draw your attention to a particular problem in my region, in the village of Jersey Marine. They were promised fast broadband by March 2015. They were then promised it again by July 2015. The latest update is the cabinet has been installed for six months but they still have not got it because there appears to be a problem getting the cables across a railway line, which has been there since 1890. This doesn’t auger well for the planning process of BT or their contractors. One constituent who contacted me says he’s a home-based worker, seriously disadvantaged by poor broadband at only 1 MB and cannot take part in video-conferences nor share virtual desktops. What solution would you propose for people in Jersey Marine who require this superfast broadband and are not able to access is?

Carwyn Jones - The First Minister Clearly, it is planned for them to be able to access superfast broadband, but if I could write to the Member with further details, perhaps then we could investigate what the problem has been and also to provide a more secure date in the future for those who have contacted him.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed with some urgency by the next Welsh Government.
The Tennant Navigation is an obvious channel (literally and metaphorically) for fibre optic cable which can link not only Jersey Marine but also other communities in the Neath valley to state-of-the-art broadband. Have you spoken to the company which owns the canal as to whether they would be prepared to take the initiative?
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