Clwyd South MS Ken Skates asked for an update on how the Welsh Government is helping to connect more businesses and homes across the region yesterday (Wednesday).
Mr Skates said: “I share people’s frustration about areas of Clwyd South which struggle to get a decent broadband connection. Broadband should be seen as a key piece of modern infrastructure, and everyone should be able to access it.
“The UK Government is responsible for telecommunications, including broadband, but the Welsh Government is having to use funds set aside for areas it is responsible for to step in where the market and the UK Government have failed to act.”
In the Senedd, Mr Skates asked: “What is the Welsh Government doing to help connect more properties in north Wales to superfast broadband?”
Minister Lee Waters responded: “Responsibility for connectivity lies with the UK Government, but we continue to step in to provide connectivity. 7,508 premises have now been given access to full fibre in north Wales under the Welsh Government's £56m full fibre roll-out. We continue to provide connectivity solutions through our local broadband fund and our access-to-broadband scheme.”
Mr Skates then asked: “Given the Welsh Government's commitment to combating the climate emergency, and also given the huge rise in the number of people who are working remotely and working from home as a result of coronavirus, would you agree with me that broadband should be regarded as a universal service, like the Royal Mail, and should be available to all?”
The Minister agreed, telling the Clwyd South Member: “That is the key point in the debate that we need to keep emphasising. This is now an essential utility service. I hear from Members across the Chamber about difficulties their constituents have getting connected, and it is a real impediment to being able to carry out essential functions in society.
“But the UK Government, who have responsibility for broadband, refuse either through ideology or through inertia to take the action necessary to make sure everybody has a right to be connected. So, as a result, we see a hodgepodge of pragmatic schemes being devised to try and get round what is essentially a structural flaw. And, as you say, Royal Mail, a privately-run company, has a legal obligation to deliver for the same cost a universal service, and the same must apply for broadband.”
After the session in the Senedd, Mr Skates said: “While telecommunications is not devolved, the Welsh Government has helped connect 95% of properties in Wales.
“The Welsh Government has to comply with competition law, so cannot stipulate which properties should be connected, and OpenReach determines which premises they cover based on multiple factors including value for public money.
“I believe OpenReach should have to connect all homes as a cost of business, and I know the Minister will continue to press the UK Government to class broadband as a universal service.”