Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee11/05/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|Delyth Jewell MS|
|Huw Irranca-Davies MS|
|Janet Finch-Saunders MS|
|Joyce Watson MS|
|Ken Skates MS||Yn dirprwyo ar ran Jenny Rathbone|
|Substitute for Jenny Rathbone|
|Llyr Gruffydd MS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Dr Sian Phipps||Panel Defnyddwyr Gwasanaethau Cyfathrebu|
|Communications Consumer Panel|
|Hywel Wiliam||Pwyllgor Cynghori Cymru, Ofcom|
|Ofcom Advisory Committee for Wales|
|Rhian Connick||Ffederasiwn Cenedlaethol Sefydliadau'r Merched Cymru|
|National Federation of Women's Institutes Wales|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Andrea Storer||Dirprwy Glerc|
|Elizabeth Wilkinson||Ail Glerc|
|Marc Wyn Jones||Clerc|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Mae hon yn fersiwn ddrafft o’r cofnod.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. This is a draft version of the record.
Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.
The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:30.
Bore da i chi i gyd, a chroeso i gyfarfod Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Croeso i'r Aelodau, rhai yn ymuno â ni wyneb yn wyneb—am y tro cyntaf yn y tymor yma, wrth gwrs—a rhai yn ymuno â ni dros, neu yn rhithiol y dylwn i ei ddweud, dros y we. Dŷn ni wedi derbyn ymddiheuriad oddi wrth Jenny Rathbone, a dŷn ni'n croesawu Ken Skates i'n plith ni, a fydd yn dirprwyo ar ei rhan hi. Fel roeddwn i'n ei ddweud, mae rhai Aelodau—Joyce Watson, Delyth Jewell a Ken Skates—yn ymuno â ni drwy fideo-gynadledda. Ond ar wahân i'r addasiadau sy'n ymwneud â chynnal y trafodion mewn fformat hybrid, mae'r holl ofynion eraill, o safbwynt Rheolau Sefydlog, ac yn y blaen, yn aros yn eu lle. Ac mi fydd y materion cyhoeddus dŷn ni'n eu trafod yn y cyfarfod yma heddiw, wrth gwrs, yn cael eu darlledu'n fyw ar Senedd.tv. Ac mi fydd Cofnod y Trafodion hefyd, wrth gwrs, yn cael ei gyhoeddi ar ôl y cyfarfod, yn unol â'r arfer. Mae hwn yn gyfarfod dwyieithog, felly mae yna ddarpariaeth cyfieithu ar y pryd, o'r Gymraeg i'r Saesneg, i'r rhai sydd ei angen e. A chyn bwrw i mewn i'r prif eitemau yn y cyfarfod y bore yma, gaf i ofyn a oes gan unrhyw un unrhyw fuddiannau i'w datgan? Nac oes. Iawn. Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
A very good morning to you all, and welcome to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at the Welsh Parliament. A warm welcome to Members, some who are joining us face to face—for the first time this term—and others joining us virtually. We've received apologies from Jenny Rathbone, and we welcome Ken Skates, who will be substituting on her behalf. As I said, some Members—Joyce Watson, Delyth Jewell and Ken Skates—are joining us virtually. But with the exception of adaptations made in order to hold hybrid proceedings, all other Standing Order requirements and so on remain in place. And the public issues discussed in this meeting will be broadcast live on Senedd.tv. And a Record of Proceedings will also be published following the meeting, as usual. This is a bilingual meeting, so simultaneous interpretation is available, from Welsh to English, for those who need it. And before we move into our substantive items this morning, may I ask if any Members have any declarations of interest. No. Thank you very much.
Felly, ymlaen â ni at brif faterion y cyfarfod y bore yma, sef wrth gwrs derbyn tystiolaeth gan ddau banel o dystion, a fydd yn llywio'n gwaith ni ar gysylltedd digidol yng Nghymru. Ac mi fydd ffocws ein gwaith ni yn bennaf yn canolbwyntio ar bolisïau band eang a mynediad i fand eang. Felly, mae'r panel cyntaf o'n blaenau ni y bore yma. Croeso i'r tri ohonoch chi. Dwi'n meddwl efallai mai'r man gorau i ddechrau yw drwy ofyn i chi gyflwyno'ch hunain a jest sôn beth yw'ch teitl chi a phwy rydych chi'n ei gynrychioli. Ac mi ddechreuwn ni yn fan hyn gyda Hywel.
We'll move on therefore to the main issues this morning, namely to take evidence from two panels of witnesses, who will steer our work on digital connectivity in Wales. And we will be mainly focused on broadband policies and access to broadband. So, the first panel are with us this morning. A very warm welcome to you all. I think the best way is to ask you to introduce yourselves, and tell us who you represent. And we'll start with Hywel.
Bore da. Fy enw i yw Hywel Wiliam. Rwy'n gadeirydd ar bwyllgor ymgynghorol Ofcom dros Gymru. Ac rydyn ni'n bwyllgor sydd hyd braich, mewn gwirionedd, o Ofcom fel corff. Rydyn ni'n cynnig a darparu cyngor i'r pwyllgor ar faterion yn ymwneud â defnyddwyr a dinasyddion yng Nghymru o ran y gwasanaethau cyfathrebiadau, ond does dim rhaid i Ofcom dderbyn ein cyngor ni, ac fel dwi'n ei ddweud, mae'r berthynas yna felly yn un hyd braich.
Good morning. I'm Hywel Wiliam. I am chair of the Ofcom advisory committee for Wales. And we are a committee that is arm's length from Ofcom as a body. We provide advice on issues related to consumers and citizens in Wales in terms of communication services, but Ofcom doesn't have to accept our advice, so, as I said, it's an arm's-length relationship.
Ardderchog. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Rhian.
Excellent. Thank you very much. Rhian.
Bore da. Rhian Connick, pennaeth swyddfa Cymru Sefydliad y Merched.
Good morning. Rhian Connick, head of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, Wales.
Grêt. Diolch yn fawr. Sian.
Great. Thank you. Sian.
Bore da. I'm Sian Phipps, I'm the Wales member on the Communications Consumer Panel. We cover the whole of the UK, and our role is to listen to the voices of consumers, particularly people who are older or have disabilities. And we ensure that Ofcom hear those voices in our conversations with them.
Grêt. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am fod gyda ni, a dŷn ni'n edrych ymlaen i glywed y dystiolaeth a fydd gennych chi i'w rhoi i ni. Felly, awn ni'n syth mewn i gwestiynau, os cawn ni, ac mi wnaf i ofyn yn gyntaf i Janet Finch-Saunders i gychwyn.
Thank you very much for joining us, and we look forward to hearing your evidence. So we'll move immediately to questions, and I'll invite Janet Finch-Saunders to ask the first question.
Diolch, Chair. Ofcom estimates that around 15,000 or 1 per cent of premises cannot get a decent broadband service of at least 10 Mbps download speed from either fixed or fixed wireless networks. Do you agree with me that public money should be used to connect these premises?
O safbwynt y pwyllgor, wrth gwrs, dŷn ni ddim o reidrwydd yn rhoi cyngor o'r math yna. Hynny yw, mae e'n rhywbeth y mae'r pwyllgor efallai wedi ei drafod yn benodol o ran ariannu gwasanaethau—pwy ddylai fod yn gwneud. Ond mae yna ystyriaethau y gallwch chi feddwl amdanyn nhw. Y cwestiwn cyntaf yw: oes yna wasanaeth ar gael yn barod yn cael ei ddarparu yn y farchnad? Os felly, byddai'r Llywodraeth neu gorff cyhoeddus yn methu ag ariannu yn fanna achos byddai'n rhaid caniatáu i'r gwasanaeth masnachol gael ei ddarparu. Ond wrth gwrs, rŷch chi'n sôn yn gyffredinol am sefyllfaoedd lle nad oes yna wasanaethau masnachol ar gael. Felly, wedyn, mae'r cwestiwn yn codi, ac mae yna gynsail i hyn. Mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn y gorffennol wedi ariannu gwahanol gynlluniau, lle maen nhw wedi gallu darparu rhwydweithiau lle nad oedd y farchnad yn fodlon gwneud hynny.
Ac yn achos y 15,000 roeddech chi'n sôn amdanynt sydd yn methu â derbyn cysylltiad o 10 Mbps, mae'r rhwymedigaeth gwasanaeth cyffredinol yn berthnasol fan hyn, sef y rhwymedigaeth y mae Ofcom yn ei weithredu ac sydd yn cael ei ddarparu gan BT. Felly, mae yna reidrwydd arnyn nhw i allu cynnig gwasanaeth yn y sefyllfa yna. Mewn ardaloedd sy'n anodd eu cyrraedd achos bod y gost o ddarparu’r gwasanaeth yn uchel, fel dwi'n deall, yn achos BT, maen nhw'n gallu darparu’r gwasanaeth, ond mae yna gyfyngiad ar faint maen nhw'n gorfod buddsoddi i'r gwasanaeth lan at uchafswm o £3,400. Os yw’n uwch na’r swm yna, does dim angen iddyn nhw ei ddarparu heblaw bod y cwsmer yn fodlon adio at y gost o wneud hynny, sydd yn anodd iawn, wrth gwrs, ar gyfer cwsmeriaid mewn ardaloedd anodd eu cyrraedd.
Wrth gwrs, mae Llywodraeth Cymru yn cynnig cynllun grant sydd efallai yn gallu helpu ac ychwanegu at y gost yma. Er enghraifft, yn y sefyllfa yna, byddech efallai yn gallu cael grant o £400 ychwanegol, sef cynllun grant mynediad band eang Cymru. Efallai y byddai'r cyfuniad hwnnw, a'r ffaith bod BT yn gorfod gwario lan at £3,400, yn help i chi i gael cysylltiad, ond mae'n eithaf posibl wrth gwrs y byddai dal dim digon o arian. A dwi'n credu, yn ôl ffigurau Ofcom, mae yna amcangyfrif o rywbeth fel 7,000 o leoliadau lle, hyd yn oed gyda’r holl arian yma, dyw e ddim yn mynd i fod yn bosibl i gael cysylltiad ffibr band eang sefydlog sy’n ddigonol mewn gwirionedd. A dwi'n credu mai ein barn ni, fel pwyllgor, yw bod angen inni edrych ar atebion amgen—atebion technolegol eraill a fyddai’n dod â'r gwasanaethau yma i'r defnyddwyr.
From the committee's perspective, we don't necessarily provide advice on that kind of thing. It may be something that we've discussed in terms of funding services and who should provide. But there are considerations that we could make. The first question is: is there a service already available in the marketplace? And, if so, the Government or a public body couldn't fund that because one would have to allow the commercial service to be provided. But you're talking in general terms about situations where commercial services are not available. And then the question does arise, and there is some precedent here. The Welsh Government in the past has funded different schemes, where they have been able to provide networks where commercial operators weren't willing to do so.
And in the case of the 15,000 that you mentioned who can't get at least a 10 Mbps connection, the universal service obligation is relevant here, namely the obligation that Ofcom implements and that is provided by BT. So, there is a requirement on them to provide a service under that universal service obligation. In the difficult-to-reach areas, because the cost of providing the service is high, as I understand it, in the case of BT, they can provide the service, but there are restrictions on how much they have to invest up to a maximum of £3,400. If it's higher than that figure, then they don't have to make provision unless the customer is willing to add to the cost, which is very difficult for customers in hard-to-reach areas.
Of course, the Welsh Government does have a grant scheme that could perhaps add to that figure, so in that situation, perhaps you could access an additional £400 grant, which is the Wales broadband access grant scheme. That funding and the fact that BT have to spend up to £3,400 may help you to get a connection, but it's possible that that figure still wouldn't be sufficient. And according to Ofcom's figures, I think there's an estimate of around 7,000 locations where, even with all that money, it's not going to be possible to provide a stable broadband fibre connection that is adequate. And our view, as a committee, is that we need to look at alternative solutions—other technological solutions that would provide these services to users.
Mi ddown ni at rai o'r rheini mewn munud, a hefyd rhai o’r pecynnau cefnogi penodol rŷch chi wedi sôn amdanyn nhw. Efallai awn ni ar ôl rhai o'r rheini yn benodol. Mae Sian eisiau dod i mewn ar hwn hefyd. Dylwn i fod wedi dweud, does dim disgwyl i bawb ateb pob cwestiwn, gyda llaw. Mi fydd yna gwestiynau wedi’u targedu yn benodol, ond, Sian, os ydych chi eisiau ymateb i hwn, yna fe ddown ni nôl at Janet wedyn.
We'll come to those in a moment, and also some of the specific support packages that you mentioned. Sian wants to come in on this too. I should have said that not all of you are expected to answer all the questions. There will be some targeted questions, but, Sian, if you'd like to respond, then we'll come back to Janet.
Diolch. As a panel, we don't have a view on where the funding should come from, but we certainly believe that everyone in Wales should have access to reliable, affordable, secure and resilient broadband services. We don't want to leave anybody behind, so those connections need to be made. As a panel, we also believe that communications should be made an essential service in the same way as water or energy. I think the pandemic has really brought into sharp focus that communications are absolutely essential for people to carry on their everyday lives—shopping, studying, working, keeping in touch with friends and families, banking. We've done some research looking at connectivity during the pandemic and also connectivity in care homes, and we've got some real human stories there about the real social and financial barriers that people have faced. So, yes, we think that everybody should be connected.
Okay. Very briefly, Rhian, and then Huw just with a quick supplementary, and then we will come back to you then, Janet.
Just to say that if we want parity of access and equality of access, then I think, yes, it needs some kind of public money, and maybe the £3,400 isn't enough in rural areas to address the lack of connectivity and so on. And also, the cost is often prohibitive for some people, so they'll never be able to afford to pay for it, especially now with the cost-of-living crisis as well. It's going to be even more difficult for people.
Diolch, Rhian. Huw.
Can I just ask whether I'm making a very naive assumption that the figures that you mentioned earlier on about the grant support available in Wales, but also the larger sum of money available, would probably have been calculated based on estimated contractor costs and estimated costs of hitting that obligation for a certain number of properties? With the runaway prices and contractor costs that we're generally seeing at the moment, are you doing any analysis to see whether that is now applicable or if it actually needs to be 10 per cent or 20 per cent higher?
Mae hwn yn bwynt dilys iawn. Fel dwi'n dweud, corff sydd yn cynnig cyngor ŷn ni. Dyw penderfyniadau polisi fel yna ddim yn fater i ni fel corff; bydd hwnna'n fater i swyddogion Ofcom, ac rwy'n deall eich bod chi'n trafod y pethau yma gyda nhw yn y sesiwn nesaf. Ond yn sicr, fel pwyllgor, rŷn ni yn poeni am y gallu i bobl allu fforddio hyd yn oed gwasanaeth elfennol lan at 10 Mbps o ran band eang. Fel dwi'n dweud, rwy'n credu mai rhan o'r ateb yw technolegau amgen eraill.
That's a very valid point. As I say, we're an advisory body. Policy decisions aren't a matter for us; that would be a matter for Ofcom officials, and I understand that you will be discussing these issues with them in your next session. But certainly, as a committee, we are concerned about the affordability of even a basic service of up to 10 Mbps in terms of broadband service. As I say, I think part of the solution is alternative technologies.
Ocê. Iawn. Mi ddown ni at hynny, dwi'n addo. Janet.
Okay. Right. We'll come to that issue, I promise. Janet.
I suppose, in terms of parity of access and equality, for me it's about fairness. Some of those 15,000 premises in my constituency are farms, or clusters of three or four houses in some of my most rural and isolated parts. So, I struggle to see how it's fair that the majority can have this provision and yet, when we've tried to cost it out to get it to these clusters, the costs have been £15,000. They've just been prohibitive. So, really, what I would stress to anybody who's listening is that we have to look after everybody in this. I know there might be—. If there was someone on the top of Snowdon it might be difficult—who knows? But at the end of the day, we're talking—. One thing that does concern me is where you can have an area whereby this road has it and then half that road is cut off. It just doesn't seem fair. One of the things that, really, people say to me is, 'It's just so unfair; they've got it', and in some cases it causes a little bit of friction and tensions within local rural communities.
Gaf i ddod yn ôl efo pwynt ychwanegol, plis?
Could I come back with an additional point, please?
Ocê. Mae hynny'n iawn.
Okay. That's fine.
Mae yna elfen bositif, wrth gwrs, i'r rhwymedigaeth gwasanaeth cyffredinol sy'n werth ei chofio. Yn ymarferol, pan mae darparwyr yn dod i mewn ac yn gallu darparu band eang, yn aml iawn maen nhw'n buddsoddi llawer yn fwy nag sydd angen, achos maen nhw'n sylweddoli bod man a man iddyn nhw osod ffeibr. Yn dechnegol, gallen nhw jest osod ffeibr i'r cabinet agosaf ac wedyn jest anfon copr o fanna i'r lleoliad, ond yn aml iawn maen nhw'n dweud, 'Na, na, man a man inni roi ffeibr i mewn.' Felly, mae'r bobl hynny yn gweld cynnydd yn eu cyflymder o efallai 1 Mbps i efallai 100 Mbps neu 500 Mbps, hyd yn oed, neu lan i 1 Gbps. Wedi ichi gael ffeibr i mewn, mae'r cyflymder yn saethu lan. So, mae yna enghreifftiau fel yna yn digwydd, sy'n dangos felly bod y rhwymedigaeth yn gweithio, ond mae yna gyfyngiadau.
There is a positive aspect to the universal service obligation that's worth remembering. Practically, when providers do come in and can provide broadband, then very often they invest far more than is necessary, because they realise that they may as well provide fibre. Technically, they could just have fibre to the nearest cabinet and then send copper to the location, but very often they say, 'No, we may as well put fibre in.' So, those people see an increase in their speed from maybe 1 Mbps to 100 Mbps or even 500 Mbps or up to 1 Gbps. Once you have fibre, then the speed shoots up. So, there are examples like that that do happen, which shows that the obligation does work, but there are limitations.
Ocê. Dwi'n awyddus inni symud ymlaen, os cawn ni, ac fe wnaf i wahodd Delyth Jewell i ofyn y cwestiwn nesaf.
Okay. I'm eager to move on, if we may, and I'll ask Delyth Jewell to ask the next question.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da ichi i gyd. Mae hyn yn cario ymlaen, mewn ffordd, o beth roedd Hywel newydd ei ddweud. Os dŷn ni'n edrych ar y llefydd a'r adeiladau lle does yna ddim cysylltiad yn barod, beth ydy'r ffyrdd gorau yn dechnolegol o'u cysylltu nhw o ran ansawdd ond hefyd o ran gwerth am arian, buasech chi'n dweud?
Thank you, Chair. Good morning to you all. This carries on from Hywel's last point. If we look at those locations where there is no connectivity at the moment, technologically speaking what's the best way of connecting those in terms of the quality of connection but also value for money?
I think, as a panel, we realise that there will be different solutions applicable in different locations. It might be that the next panel of witnesses will have the expertise on what is most suitable. But certainly, I think consumers just want a reliable, affordable connection. They might need convincing that, actually, full fibre isn't the answer, so I think there is a big communications campaign that needs to be done with consumers to enable them to know that there might be different options that might suit them best. I think we're really aware that in some places like Pembrokeshire they're taking more of a demand-side approach. So, rather than pushing the supply out to people, they're actually going to consumers and saying, 'Well, look, what is it you need? What sort of activity do you do online, in which case, therefore, what is more suitable for you as consumers?' I think that's what I'd say there.
It's possible that more could be done with the mobile infrastructure too—the 4G, 5G—and also maybe the Welsh Government need to provide more political leadership around the mobile connectivity issue. Often, people aren't aware that they can access broadband through their mobile network, so I think some more communication around that as well would be useful. The focus seems to be on fixed fibre, but maybe we need to look at what is available on a wider scale.
Yn sicr, byddwn i'n cytuno i raddau â'r safbwynt hwnnw. Mae'n ddiddorol; fe sefydlodd Llywodraeth Cymru Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru, ac fe ddaethon nhw, yn gyffredinol, i'r un casgliad, hynny yw bod yna le i ddweud, os dŷn ni'n mynd i aros am gysylltiadau parhaol drwy ffeibr i bob lleoliad, efallai y byddwn ni'n disgwyl 10 mlynedd neu fwy. Mae hynny'n gyfnod hir iawn; mae'n rhy hir, efallai, i lot o bobl sy'n moyn defnyddio'r math yma o wasanaeth, ac efallai bod pethau fel 4G a 5G yn gallu dod â'r gwasanaethau symudol hynny at bobl yn fwy cyflym. Rwy'n credu, felly, fod yna gwestiwn polisi o ran y dyfodol o ran buddsoddi. Lle mae'r flaenoriaeth? Ydych chi'n mynd i'w roi fe mwy tuag at wasanaethau symudol, neu ydych chi'n mynd i ddal i gario ymlaen i drio cefnogi gwasanaethau sefydlog, neu tipyn bach o'r ddau?
I ddod nôl at y cwestiwn a ofynnwyd ynglŷn â'r technolegau, mae yna gwpwl o dechnolegau eraill efallai fyddai hefyd o ddiddordeb, yn ogystal â gwasanaethau symudol, er enghraifft lloeren. Yn draddodiadol, doedd lloeren ddim yn atyniadol, oherwydd roedden nhw’n defnyddio lloerenau oedd mas yn bell iawn yn y bydysawd, ac yn troi gyda wyneb y Ddaear. Felly, ocê, roedd y lloeren yn edrych fel pe bai e yn yr un lleoliad—dwi'n credu mai'r awdur Arthur C Clarke feddyliodd am hyn yn wreiddiol, mae'n debyg—ond y drafferth gyda hynny oedd bod y lloeren mor bell mas, roedd y signal yn cymryd cymaint o amser i gyrraedd y lloeren, roeddech chi'n ffaelu â gwneud unrhyw beth oedd yn dibynnu ar ymateb uniongyrchol. Er enghraifft, byddai pwyllgor fel hyn yn amhosibl, achos byddai gormod o oedi rhwng y cwestiwn a'r ateb, mewn ffordd, a'r cyfathrebu.
Ond, mae yna dechnoleg newydd sy'n defnyddio lloerennau mewn orbit isel. Mae'n atgoffa fi o'r hen Telstar; pan ddechreuodd Telstar, roedd hwnna rownd y byd, roedd e'n rhoi cysylltiad teledu i chi am rhyw 20 munud, ac wedyn roedd e'n mynd dros y gorwel. Wel, y peth yw, erbyn hyn, mae e lot mwy soffistigedig; gallwch chi greu rhwydwaith o loerennau sydd ar orbit isel, sydd mewn ffordd yn rhannu'r signal gyda'i gilydd ac yn caniatáu i rywun arall gymryd drosodd; pan mae'r lloeren hynny wedi diflannu, mae un arall ar gael. Felly rŷch chi'n gallu creu mesh. Mae yna gwmni i gael o'r enw SpaceX, ac maen nhw'n honni nawr y gallan nhw gynnig gwasanaeth fyddai'n cynnig, dywedwn ni, 100 Mb yr eiliad, mwy neu lai mewn unrhyw leoliad, hynny yw, gyda'r offer perthnasol. Felly, mae technolegau fel yna yn ddiddorol, dwi'n credu, ac yn werth edrych arnyn nhw yn fwy.
I would certainly agree with that, to an extent. It's interesting; the Welsh Government established the National Infrastructure Commission for Wales, and they generally came to the same conclusion, namely that there is space to say, well, if we're going to wait for permanent fibre connections then we may be waiting 10 years or more. That's a very long time; it's too long, perhaps, for many people who want to use this kind of service, and things such as 4G and 5G could provide those mobile services far more quickly. I think there is a policy question, then, in terms of future investment. What's the priority? Are you going to focus more on mobile services, or are you going to continue to try and support fixed fibre, or a mix of both?
To go back to the question asked on technologies, there are a few other technologies that may be of interest in addition to mobile services, for example satellite. Traditionally, satellite wasn't attractive, because they used satellites that were a very long way out, and turned with the Earth's axis. I think Arthur C Clarke thought of this originally. But the problem with that was the satellite was so far away, the signal took so long to get there, you couldn't do anything that relied on a direct response. For example, a committee such as this would be impossible, because there would be too much of a lag between the question and the response and communication in general.
But there is new technology using satellite at a lower orbit. It reminds me of the old Telstar; when Telstar was going round the world, it provided you with television pictures for about 20 minutes, and then it would go over the horizon, and that would disappear. But it's a lot more sophisticated now, and you can have a network of satellites that are at a low orbit, and in a way, share the signal, and pass it on, allowing one to take over from the other. When one disappears, another is immediately available, so it creates a mesh. There's a company called SpaceX, and they claim now that they can offer a service that would provide 100 Mbps in more or less any location with the relevant equipment. So, those technologies are interesting and are worth looking at in more detail.
Ac mae yna dechnolegau newydd yn mynd i ymddangos ar y gorwel yn barhaol, onid oes? Felly mae rhywun yn teimlo ein bod ni jest yn cadw lan o hyd. Diddorol. Mae Sian eisiau pigo lan ar rywbeth.
And there will be new technologies appearing continually, so, one does feel that we're just trying to keep up all the time. That's very interesting. Sian wanted to pick up on that.
I just want to make the point that I think we realise that this could be costly or expensive, and it can be difficult in some cases, but ultimately, this is an investment. This is an investment in individuals, in communities and in Wales as a whole, so I think it requires that sort of mindset to come with this, going back to Delyth's question.
Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Ymlaen â ni, felly, a nôl at Janet.
Okay. Thank you very much. We'll move on and return to Janet.
Thank you, Chair. From your experience, how empowered do you think people are within these more isolated communities? Because we've almost got to certain schemes, and then it's needed a lead resident, say, to take it forward, and then there's a panic, then, that they're shouldering the responsibility. I found that when people are really desperately seeking a solution to a broadband issue, they're not very empowered at all. So, how do we build—? Like you've just mentioned, these new technologies, how do we get that message across to these people in the communities?
Rhian gyntaf, ac wedyn Sian.
Rhian first, and then Sian.
Better communication. They need to know what's available to them and what help is available as well, because a lot of the local authorities now have digital officers as well that can help them and advise them on the connections. But they don't always know, I don't think, that these digital officers exist, or where to find them. And if they're not online, they can't even do a Google search to find them. So, I think more information, and maybe using the networks that are available in Wales, such as some of the organisations—us three here, and maybe the organisations that we are working in partnership with: the farming unions, the young farmers, the country landowners association, or others. There are lots of networks in Wales where you'd be able to get the information out to people about the advice available.
I know in the past as a politician, I've called public meetings to grab everybody together with Openreach, BT and so on, and they've worked well. With COVID, we've not even been able to do that. So, there's maybe a cue there.
I think the point you make about it being quite a daunting prospect for individuals in communities to take the lead and feel that they're responsible for this happening or not—. Sian, you wanted to come in.
I think Rhian has answered for me, really. As you say, some of these other communities have had really creative solutions, but they've had real experts within those communities, and that's not typical everywhere. So, we need that hand-holding, touch points in the local authorities to really help communities know about these things and how to go about them.
My final point on this is that the Welsh Government's Access Broadband Cymru provides grants to individuals for the installation costs of new broadband connections for homes, and it's about £800. I'm aware that fibre to the premises connections can be considerably higher than £800. Do you have any thoughts on whether the £800 figure should now be reviewed? It's picking up a bit, really, on the point that Huw Irranca-Davies made that everything is going up. So, how does that £800 now square?
Yn sicr, rŷn ni'n croesawu'r ffaith bod y cynllun yn bodoli, wrth gwrs. Fel rŷch chi'n dweud, £800 os ŷch chi'n edrych am gysylltiad o dros 30 Mb yr eiliad. Wrth gwrs, rwy'n deall, ond dwi ddim yn siŵr a oes modd i bobl ddod at ei gilydd—hynny yw, fel cymuned, fod pobl yn gwneud y cais yma, ond fel cymuned eu bod nhw'n gallu rhoi'r arian ei gyd at ei gilydd wedyn er mwyn cryfhau'r cais ac, wrth gwrs, mae'n cryfhau'r cais wedyn o safbwynt y darparwr. Maen nhw, wrth gwrs, yn ei wneud e'n amodol bod yn rhaid, yn gyntaf, gweld a oes yna gwmni masnachol yn darparu gwasanaeth. Hynny yw, chewch chi ddim y grant os oes rhywun fel Openreach, er enghraifft, yn y broses o osod ffeibr neu adeiladwaith newydd yn yr ardal. Wrth gwrs, mae'n werth cofio nawr bod yna gwmnïau newydd fel, er enghraifft, Ogi—dwi'n gwybod eich bod chi'n cwrdd yn y sesiwn nesaf—sydd hefyd nawr, wrth gwrs, yn gosod eu hisadeiledd eu hunain a ddim yn ddibynnol gymaint ar rwydwaith BT ac Openreach.
Mewn egwyddor, yn sicr, fel pwyllgor, fe fyddem ni efallai'n ffafrio gweld grantiau mwy o bosib, ond rwy'n credu bod eisiau bod yn gall a gweld bod angen, hefyd, gydbwysedd o safbwynt ystyriaeth o beth sydd yno'n barod yn y farchnad. Hynny yw, dwi'n cydymdeimlo, mewn ffordd, â Llywodraeth Cymru; allan nhw ddim buddsoddi lle mae yna faterion masnachol yn digwydd yn barod. Felly, cydbwysedd yw hi, rwy'n credu.
Certainly, we welcome the fact that the scheme is in place. As you said, £800 if you want a connection of over 30 Mbps. Of course, I understand, but I'm not sure whether people can come together as a community—that is, that people make this application, but the community could pool the funds in order to strengthen the bid, and it also strengthens it for the provider too. It is a condition that, first of all, there would have to be assessment made of whether a commercial company does provide a service. You won't get a grant if someone like Openreach is in the process of laying fibre or new infrastructure in the area. It's worth bearing in mind that there are new companies, such as Ogi—and I know that you'll speak to them in the next session—that are also laying their own infrastructure and aren't as reliant on the BT and Openreach network.
But, in principle, certainly, as a committee, we would be in support of larger grants possibly, but I think we do need to be balanced and consider what's there already in the marketplace. I sympathise, in a way, with Welsh Government; they cannot invest where there is commercial activity already happening. So, it's a matter of striking the balance.
Ocê. Iawn. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi am hynny. Cwestiynau nesaf, felly, gan Joyce Watson.
Thank you very much for that. We'll move to the next questions, from Joyce Watson.
Good morning. I just want your thoughts about concerns that you might have about the impact of the move to voice over internet protocol and, added to that—[Inaudible.]
The line glitched a little bit, Joyce, for the second part of your question. Could you repeat it, please?
Right, the second part—the impact of the move to voice over internet protocol, and whether you think there's enough awareness in the communities about it.
There we are. Lovely. Thank you, Joyce. Sian.
The short answer, Joyce, is 'no'. We've been doing some research; we commissioned some research. We've also done some focus group discussions and we've brought together—. We have hubs in each of our four nations, so we've brought those together to have a UK discussion on this. And exactly that—consumers are not aware. I think it's probably one of the biggest issues facing the panel at the moment. We feel that there are real serious implications for certain groups of people. On the switchover, I'm assuming people know, basically, you're unplugging your existing phone and putting it into your internet. And for a lot of people, that might be fairly straightforward, but there are some people, I think, who are going to really struggle. We've heard some people don't even have broadband, so that's a key issue. In those areas, you might not even have a decent mobile signal either. We know that people who are disabled rely more on their phones. We know that people who have telecare services rely on that landline in order to get those services. Microbusinesses in some areas still rely on fax machines, they still rely on credit card machines. So, I think all these issues—. Will that equipment actually be compatible with the new system? There are big questions there. And, of course, what happens in the event that you lose your internet connection or there's an electricity cut? Some communities could be left a bit high and dry there.
You'll probably be aware that, from BTs written evidence to you, they've actually paused their roll-out on the basis, I think, of some of the consumer experiences and feedback they've had. But that's not true of all the communication providers. So, as a panel, we really want to see an extensive public awareness campaign—for Welsh Government to work together with, say, the UK Government, and really bring the communication providers together. I know that Ofcom in Wales have done some recent work bringing the healthcare sector together, so just trying to raise awareness of all these issues. And, of course, compounded with that, you might have switch-off of 2G and 3G as well. So, I think, yes, it's really essential that certain consumers are protected and that they're able to carry on during and after the switchover.
Absolutely, yes. Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Hywel.
Jest un pwynt i ategu'r hyn mae Sian wedi'i ddweud, rŷn ni'n aelodau hefyd o'r hwb yr oedd Sian yn sôn amdano fe, ac mae wedi gweithio mas i fod yn fforwm defnyddiol iawn, iawn o ran rhannu gwybodaeth gydag ystod eang o gyrff cyhoeddus. Os unrhyw beth, rwy'n credu bod y fforwm yn ehangu, a bydd hwnna, hefyd, yn help o ran darparu gwybodaeth a rhannu arbenigedd.
Ond, jest un pwynt bach ynglŷn â'r newid o'r hen wasanaethau ffôn copr i'r gwasanaethau newydd ar-lein. Rwy'n credu yr oedd Sian yn sôn am y perygl o ran colli pŵer, er enghraifft, mewn toriad. Mae modd cael cyflenwad pŵer di-dor, rhyw fath o beiriant, rhywbeth bach fydd yn rhan o'ch offer chi gartref fyddai'n cyflenwi pŵer pe bai yna doriad. Licem ni weld, fel corff, yn sicr—ac rŷn ni'n trafod hyn gydag Ofcom—ac mae'n bwysig, fod y rhain ar gael yn rhad, bod y dechnoleg yma'n datblygu i fod yn ddefnyddiol iawn a'i bod yn ddigon rhad i bobl ei chael yn eu tai. Ac mae'n edrych fel bod hynny'n wir. Hynny yw, rwy'n credu bydd y gost o gael cyflenwad pŵer di-dor yn eithaf isel, mewn gwirionedd. Ond, bydd yn dal yn gost i rai pobl, wrth gwrs, a bydd angen help. Ond, rwy'n credu bod hwnna'n beth positif o ran symud ymlaen, felly.
Just one point to echo what Sian said, we are members of the hub that Sian mentioned, and it's now a very useful forum in terms of sharing information with a broad range of public bodies. If anything, the forum is expanding, and I think that that will also help in providing information and sharing expertise.
But, just one minor point on the change from the old copper phone services to the new online services. I think Sian mentioned the risk in terms of power cuts, for example. One can have a power supply that wouldn't cut out, that could be part of your equipment at home and that would provide power if there were a power cut. And we, as a body—and we are discussing this with Ofcom—think it is important that these are cheaply available and that this technology develops in order to be very useful and it should be cheap enough for people to have in their own homes. And it does appear that that is the case. I think the cost of having that additional power supply would be quite low. It will still be a problem for some people, and there will be a need for help, of course, but I think that this is positive as regards moving forward.
Yn sicr, mi fyddai unrhyw ddatrysiadau fel yna, rwy'n credu, yn rhywbeth y byddem ni fel Aelodau, hefyd, sydd wedi delio â gwaith achos ar y mater yma, yn ei groesawu. Diolch am hynny. Ken Skates.
Certainly, any solutions such as that, I think, would be something that we as Members, who have dealt with casework on this, would welcome. Thank you for that. Ken Skates.
Diolch, Llyr. So, the biggest gaps in broadband speed availability between the Wales and UK average are in those areas where there are 100 Mbps connections and faster. What do you believe is the impact of this gap and how should it be closed?
Iawn. Pwy sydd eisiau ymateb i hwnna? Sian.
Who'd like to respond? Sian.
Thank you, Ken. Yes, certainly. I think if consumers have lower speeds, they will be at a disadvantage. And I think that you're probably aware that Which? have done some research lately and they've discovered—well, I think it's probably obvious to you as politicians—that the speeds will vary greatly across Wales. So, you've got lower speeds in mid Wales and north Wales, compared with, say, Cardiff and Swansea. One group of people I would like to highlight that I think this is going to have an impact on is people who are deaf. From our discussions with stakeholders, we know that people will rely on speech-to-text, or they'll rely on captioning or lip reading, so it's really essential that those people have the higher speeds in order for them to participate fully, say, in video calls, and also having a reliable connection as well, because if it fades out they'll miss discussion. So, we're really aware of the impact on that particular group of people.
I think that it's worth trying to find out a little bit more about consumers as to why, perhaps, take-up of faster broadband isn't as high in Wales. Certainly, I think that there might be a cost issue involved here. People might find that they use their mobile data because it's cheaper. And also, an issue I'd like to bring in here is terminology—you know, people talking about megabits and gigabits and fast speed, high speed. To a lot of people, they don't necessarily understand what that means. So, if speed is talked about in terms of capacity—so, 'This speed will allow you and someone in your house to be having simultaneous video calls and people will be elsewhere in the house studying on the internet', you know, 'This is what you need', or, 'If you're simply a low user in terms of you just want to do your shopping and so on, this is what you need'—I think that consumers perhaps need a bit more explanation of what it is that they need to be provided with, and what they're paying for.
Rhian first and then Hywel.
Just to add to Sian's comments, we agree with all those points. Also, on some of the essential services that people need, while for the past two years we've done everything remotely, access to services has been limited for a lot of people. If you think of the mental health crisis that we have in Wales and the issues around violence against women, if they can't access the help that they need, it's really a serious situation. So, it impacts on people's lives, the slowness of some of the systems, and so on.
In so many different ways. You're absolutely right, yes. Diolch. Hywel.
Fel pwyllgor, hefyd—i ategu'r pwyntiau eraill yna—rŷn ni'n poeni hefyd am yr effaith ar fusnesau, yn enwedig busnesau bach. Hefyd, pan fyddwch chi'n meddwl am Gymru, mae yna nifer fawr o barciau busnes o amgylch Cymru, ac yn draddodiadol roedd y rhain yn tueddu i fod y tu allan i ganol trefi; roedden nhw ar gyrion trefi. Pan adeiladwyd nhw, doedd neb yn sylweddoli beth fyddai'r effaith ar hyn o safbwynt darpariaeth band eang. Ond, wrth gwrs, maen nhw'n tueddu i fod yn eithaf pell i ffwrdd o le bynnag mae'r gwasanaeth yn dod, ac wedi dioddef yn draddodiadol. Cyn y pandemig, dechreuon ni drio gwneud bach o waith ymchwil jest trwy fynd i rai busnesau parc a gofyn i'r tenantiaid beth oedd y gwasanaethau roedden nhw'n eu derbyn. Roedden nhw'n syndod o wael. Dyw hyn ddim yn ymchwil gallwch chi ei rhoi hi i ryw fath o safon, achos does dim gennym ni'r adnoddau i wneud ymchwil ffurfiol. Ond roedd hi jest yn ddiddorol i glywed straeon o bobl am fel oedd rhywun yn mynd gartref er mwyn cael gwell band eang. Roedd gwell band eang gyda nhw gartref nag oedd ganddyn nhw yn y parc busnes, a dwi'n credu y byddai'n werth edrych—. Fel pwyllgor, yn bendant rŷn ni'n moyn symud nôl i ailsiarad â'r tenantiaid yma nawr i weld os yw pethau wedi gwella. Os oedden nhw'n moyn gwell cysylltiadau, roedd rhaid iddyn nhw dalu am yr isadeiledd eu hunain. Byddai hynna'n meddwl, efallai, gosod piben yn y ddaear, i mewn i'r parc. So, dwi'n credu ei fod e'n sector sydd wedi cael ei anghofio—y busnesau bach a pharciau busnes.
Just to echo the points, as a committee, we are concerned about the impact on businesses, particularly small businesses. And when you think of Wales, there are a number of business parks around Wales, and traditionally, these tended to be outwith town centres; they were on the outskirts. When they were built, no-one realised what the impact of that would be in terms of broadband provision, because they tend to be quite a distance from wherever the service is provided, and traditionally they've suffered as a result of that. Prior to the pandemic, we started some research and we asked business tenants what services they received, and they were very poor. And this isn't research of any great quality, because we don't have the resource to carry out formal research, but it was interesting to hear anecdotes about people going home to access broadband because it was better than the broadband they had in the business park, and I think it's worth looking at that. As a committee, we want to return to these tenants to see if things have improved. Very often, if they wanted better connectivity, they had to pay for the infrastructure themselves, and that would mean laying an underground pipe in the park. So, I think that's a sector that's been forgotten—small businesses and business parks.
Ocê. Diolch yn fawr iawn, y tri ohonoch chi. Mae yna ryw chwarter awr ar ôl gennym ni a dŷn ni ddim cweit hanner ffordd drwy'r cwestiynau, felly dwi'n ofni efallai fyddwn ni ddim yn cyflawni bob un ohonyn nhw. Ond, ie, ocê, awn ni ymlaen at Delyth.
Thank you to all three of you. We have some 15 minutes left and we're not quite halfway through our questions, so we need to make a move, and we might not get to all of them. But we'll move to Delyth.
Diolch eto, Cadeirydd. Dŷn ni wedi bod yn trafod beth fydd y goblygiadau ar gyfer pobl neu ar gyfer adeiladau lle does dim cysylltiad ar gael. Beth ydych chi'n meddwl sydd angen cael ei wneud mewn sefyllfaoedd lle mae yna bosibilrwydd am gysylltiad band eang ar gael, ond dyw e ddim yn cael ei gymryd lan. Beth sydd angen cael ei wneud gan Lywodraeth Cymru, gan Ofcom, gan unrhyw stakeholders eraill? Dwi byth yn gwybod beth ydy 'stakeholders' yn Gymraeg.
Thank you once again, Chair. We've been discussing the implications for people or buildings where connectivity isn't available. What do you think needs to be done in scenarios where there is a possible connection available but it's not taken up? What needs to be done by the Welsh Government, Ofcom or any other stakeholders? I can never remember the Welsh term for 'stakeholders'.
Rhanddeiliaid neu fudd-ddeiliaid.
'Rhanddeiliaid' or 'budd-ddeiliaid' is the term.
Ie. Ocê. Diolch, Delyth. Sian.
Yes. Okay. Thanks, Delyth. Sian.
Yes. I mean, we are aware that about 7 per cent of people in Wales just aren't connected, and that figure's much higher then, say, for people over 75—it goes up to 33 per cent. And figures have shown that, of those people, then, 64 per cent of those older people just don't have the digital skills to be able to use the internet safely. So, that's a huge implication there for things like online harms and online safety. And there's great work that has been done to try and show people the relevance of broadband to their lives, and trying to guide those novice users or narrower users—great work has been done through Digital Communities Wales and the co-op and so on.
We think there's a major issue about affordability here as well. Ofcom gave us figures that the number of people who are eligible for, say, a social tariff and are actually taking it up is only 1.2 per cent. So, there's very low take-up. Customers might not just be aware of those opportunities. So, we want to see a concerted campaign by Government, and working through with the communication providers, to ensure that people are aware of that and feel that they can ask for extra help as well. People might not have the confidence to do that.
This committee, I think, is uniquely placed to see what's happening in the water sector at the moment. The Welsh Government's working very closely with UK Government to look at having perhaps a more consistent approach to social tariffs—very consistent eligibility criteria, make it easy to apply for a central funding pot, and also having an overall communications campaign. So, important lessons there to see what's happening in that sector, to see if there might be useful parallels for the communication sector. But, certainly, some people really need that extra help, and it's not just about having the device; it's about having the skills and the confidence.
Yes. Thank you. Well, that 1.2 per cent figure is quite stark, isn't it? It probably tells us clearly that something isn't right in that space. Okay.
Diolch yn fawr iawn. Diolch. Fe wnawn ni symud ymlaen, dwi'n meddwl, gan fod amser yn ein herbyn ni, felly awn ni ymlaen at Janet â'r cwestiwn nesaf.
Thank you very much. We'll move on, I think, because time is against us, and we'll move to Janet for the next question.
Thank you. Openreach is currently working to connect 39,000 premises to superfast broadband. How effectively do you think Openreach communicate with the communities involved? And there are two points to this question, really. There's the fact that I know at the moment they're trying to put infrastructure in place by these huge poles and things, and some people on housing estates are saying, 'We don't want them', and others are actually saying, 'But we do want them', and it's causing tensions. As a result of those not believing that they need the infrastructure now, but, obviously, long term, when those properties are sold, people could move into those areas and think, 'Oh, it's a pity they didn't put the infrastructure here.' How can we make our communities, again, more informed, more empowered, so that these hostilities and these tensions don't arise? Recently, it's popped up all over Aberconwy, and managing it has been quite interesting. To be fair to Openreach, they're now coming back and saying, 'Well, where we've put poles, if needs be, we'll take them out if there hasn't been the relevant consultation.' Obviously, you would agree with me that consultation is key, but how do we really empower our communities?
Okay. Who wants to pick up on that? We can obviously ask Openreach in the next panel.
I think, picking up on Sian's skills, it's having the confidence, isn't it, to go for it and to have the skills as well to be able to use the internet and so on to the best for what they need to do. I think it's communication as well. People don't always know what's available and—
Yn y cyd-destun yma hefyd, rwy'n credu ei bod yn bwysig cofio beth yw'r sefyllfa reoleiddiol, achos dyw e ddim beth fyddech chi'n ei ddisgwyl, mewn ffordd. Hynny yw, mae yna god i gael, cod cyfathrebiadau electronig, ac effaith y cod yma, mewn gwirionedd, yw pan fydd cwmnïau yn gwneud cais i gael pwerau o dan y cod i ddatblygu isadeiledd, mae hynna'n meddwl eu bod nhw'n gallu symud ymlaen i ddatblygu'r isadeiledd yna gyda dim llawer o wrthwynebiad.
Mae e wedi digwydd i fi'n bersonol, er enghraifft—mae yna fast newydd ffôn symudol wedi dod lan, wedi cael ei osod ddim yn bell iawn o'r tŷ ac rydych chi'n gallu ei weld e'n glir o'r ardd. Nawr, does dim byd y gallwn ni ei wneud fel unigolion i atal hynny, ac rwy'n cefnogi cael mastiau symudol, so mewn ffordd doeddwn i ddim yn poeni am y peth, i ddweud y gwir. Ond roedd e'n ddiddorol i ffeindio mas bod y cyngor wedi cael gwybodaeth ei fod e'n mynd i ddigwydd ac roedd y cyngor wedi rhoi eu barn nhw ynglŷn â lleoliad y mast, ond ar ddiwedd y dydd roedd gan y cwmni oedd yn darparu'r gwasanaeth y pŵer i ddweud, 'Rŷn ni wedi cael eich barn chi, rŷn ni'n derbyn hwnna, ond am resymau technegol, mae'n rhaid inni roi'r mast lle mae e.' So, mae'r cod yna'n rhoi lot fawr o bŵer, felly, i'r darparwyr, am resymau eithaf amlwg, er mwyn sicrhau bod isadeiledd yn symud mas yn gyflym, bod yn ddim gormod o rwystrau iddo fe, neu ddim gormod o bobl jest yn gwrthwynebu achos maen nhw'n gwrthwynebu am ddim rheswm. Felly, rwy'n sylweddoli'r pwysigrwydd o gael y cod.
Ac rwy'n gweld bod Llywodraeth y Deyrnas Unedig yn mynd i edrych eto ar delerau'r cod i weld a yw'n bosib bod yna le i'w ddiwygio fe yn y dyfodol. Ond mae e'n werth cofio hynna jest fel cyd-destun. Hynny yw, yn aml iawn bydd cyrff, awdurdodau lleol, er enghraifft—does dim llawer o ddylanwad gyda nhw ar beth all ddigwydd mewn ardal arbennig.
In this context, I think it's also important to bear in mind the regulatory situation, because it's not, perhaps, what you would expect. There is a code, the electronic communications code, and the impact of that code in reality is that when companies make a bid for powers under the code to develop infrastructure, that'll mean that they can move ahead to develop that infrastructure without too much opposition.
It's happened to me personally, for example—there is a new mobile phone mast that has been placed not too far from my home, and you can see it very clearly from the garden. Now, there's nothing we can do as individuals to prevent that, and I support having mobile masts, so, in a way, it didn't concern me, if truth be told. But it was interesting to find out that the council had been given information that it was going to happen, and the council had given an opinion as to its location, but, at the end of the day, the company providing the service had the power to say, 'Well, we've received your opinion, but for technical reasons, we have to place the mast there.' So, that code does provide a great deal of power to the provider, for quite obvious reasons, in order to ensure that infrastructure can be rolled out quickly, that there aren't too many obstacles with it or too many people just opposing for opposing's sake. So, I understand the importance of having the code.
And I see that the UK Government will look again at the terms of the code to see whether there is space for reform in future. But it's worth bearing that in mind just as context, because, very often, local authorities, for example, won't have much influence on what can happen in a particular area.
Ocê, diolch am hynny. Yn amlwg, gwnawn ni bigo lan ar hwnna yn y sesiwn nesaf hefyd. Mi wnawn ni symud ymlaen, os ydy pawb yn hapus, ac mi ddof i nesaf at Joyce.
Okay, thank you for that. Clearly, we'll pick up on that in our next session. We will move on, and we'll move now to Joyce.
My question's been answered.
Dyna ni, os ydy Joyce yn hapus, awn ni'n syth at Ken.
Well, if Joyce is content, we'll move to Ken.
Diolch, Chair. The Deputy Minister for Climate Change has said the UK Government's gigabit voucher scheme has failed to reflect the true costs of deploying in the Welsh landscape. I know that you've already talked about costs here in Wales that are associated with implementation, but do you agree with this statement?
Well, everybody's looking down—[Laughter.]—so I'm not sure whether that's a 'yes' or a 'no', Ken, to be honest. Hywel.
Eto, mae e'n rhywbeth rwy'n credu bod y Llywodraeth—. Wel, mewn ffordd mae Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru wedi edrych ar y math yma o gwestiwn ac roedd ganddyn nhw, yn sicr, argymhellion pendant ynglŷn â lle fyddai'r flaenoriaeth yn y dyfodol. Fel pwyllgor, efallai, dŷn ni ddim wedi trafod yn benodol y blaenoriaethau yna ein hunain, ond rwy'n sylwi bod y pwyllgor yn gwneud y pwynt yma fod mater o gael cydbwysedd, beth sydd yn mynd i fod fwyaf effeithiol o ran cael gwasanaethau mas i ddefnyddwyr mor gyflym ag sy'n bosibl. Mae'n edrych fel pe baen nhw'n ffafrio cymysgedd o wasanaethau symudol yn ogystal â rhai sefydlog.
Dwi'n credu, yn fwy eang, mae'r cwestiwn gyda ni yng Nghymru bob amser—nid dim ond yng Nghymru, wrth gwrs, ond mewn ardaloedd gwledig ar draws y Deyrnas Unedig, ond efallai yn benodol yng Nghymru—o ran topograffeg ein gwlad ni. Mae gennym ni lot o fynyddoedd a chymoedd, ac mae'n ardal lle mae'n anodd iawn darparu gwasanaethau cyfathrebiadau. Mae hynny wedi bod yn draddodiadol wir, nid jest yn y sector yma, ond ar gyfer, er enghraifft, darlledu. Os ydych chi'n meddwl am deledu, mae poblogaeth Cymru amboutu 5 y cant o'r Deyrnas Unedig, ond mae gennym ni dros 20 y cant o drosglwyddyddion teledu'r Deyrnas Unedig achos ei fod e mor anodd cael darpariaeth. A hyd yn oed wedyn, dyw'r ddarpariaeth ddim lan i lefel cyfartaledd y Deyrnas Unedig oherwydd bod cymaint o fynyddoedd gyda ni. Mae hynny'n gwestiwn sy'n effeithio ar unrhyw ddarpariaeth o ran tonfeddi radio. Hynny yw, mae'n cynnwys gwasanaethau symudol, llais a band eang hefyd yn yr ystyriaeth yna.
So, mae topograffeg ein gwlad ni, a hefyd y ffaith bod gennym ni nifer gymharol fach o bobl yn byw mewn ardaloedd gwledig yn gwneud yr economeg o ddarparu unrhyw wasanaeth gymaint yn fwy heriol, a chymaint yn fwy anodd.
Again, it's something I think the Government—. Well, in a way, the National Infrastructure Commission Wales have looked at this kind of question and they certainly had some robust recommendations as to where future priorities should lie. As a committee, perhaps we haven't particularly discussed those priorities ourselves, but I note that the committee makes this point that it's a matter of striking a balance in terms of what's going to be most effective in getting services out there to users as soon as possible. They seem to be favouring a mix of mobile services, as well as fixed.
I think, more broadly, though, the question that we in Wales have—not only in Wales, of course, but in rural areas across the UK, but specifically in Wales—is in terms of our topography. There are a number of mountains and valleys, and it's an area where it's very difficult to provide communication services. That's traditionally been the case, not just in this sector, but also for broadcasting. If you think of television, the Welsh population is around 5 per cent of the UK population, but we have over 20 per cent of the television transmitters because it's so difficult. And even then, the provision isn't up to the average UK level. That's a question that applies to any provision in terms of radio waves. That is, it includes mobile services, voice and broadband too.
So, our topography and the fact that we have a relatively small number of people living in rural areas make the economics of providing any service so much more challenging, and so much more difficult.
Ocê, diolch. Mae tipyn o stwff yn fanna y gallwn ni bigo lan arnyn nhw. Awn ni ymlaen at Delyth, os gallwn ni.
Okay, thank you. There's a lot to pick up on there, I think. We'll move on to Delyth, if we may.
Diolch am hynna. Pa mor effeithiol ydych chi'n meddwl ydy'r rhwymedigaeth gwasanaeth cyffredinol, yr universal service obligation, yn y cyd-destun yma, yn amlwg?
Thank you. How effective do you think the universal service obligation is, in this context, obviously?
We're aware that Ofcom review the effectiveness of the USO and, as panel, I think just two very brief comments to say on that. We have urged them in the past to regularly review the broadband speed as part of the USO, because, obviously, it doesn't offer faster speeds, and I think, in the past, we've raised concerns about the affordability of connecting those really hard-to-reach areas. You've heard about the astronomical costs of that. So, I think it's just important for Welsh Government and Ofcom just to work together, really, just to best serve the interests of people in Wales.
Ocê. Unrhyw un arall?
Okay. Anyone else?
Jest, fel pwyllgor, byddem ni'n sicr yn ategu'r hyn mae Sian yn ei ddweud ac, fel pwyllgor, byddem ni'n moyn cadw golwg ar unrhyw waith mae Ofcom yn ei wneud o ran adolygu'r cynllun. Ond byddwn i hefyd yn mynd yn ôl at fy atebion i yn gynt—yn aml iawn mae yna fuddiannau annisgwyl yn dod mas o'r cynllun, bod yna fwy o fuddsoddiad yn digwydd oherwydd ei fod e'n fwy ymarferol, yn aml iawn, i roi cysylltiad ffeibr i mewn na jest rhoi'r isafswm, felly.
Just as a committee, I would echo Sian's comments and, as a committee, we would want to keep an eye on work that Ofcom is doing in reviewing this. But I'd also return to my earlier answers—obviously there are unexpected benefits emerging from the obligation. There's more investment happening because it's more practical, very often, to provide fibre than just to provide the minimum.
Ocê, diolch yn fawr. Gan bod amser yn brin, os ydy Aelodau'n hapus, mi wnawn ni neidio'n syth i gwestiynau Huw. Mae Huw wedi bod yn amyneddgar iawn.
As time is short, if Members are happy, we'll move immediately to Huw's questions. He's been very patient .
Thank you for that. One that I want to ask you is in relation to the so-called barrier-busting taskforce, which UK Government signalled back in 2017. The NIC suggested that we needed a real drive on this in Wales as well. But we struggled to find much in the public domain on it. Can you tell us your experience of the barrier-busting taskforce, if anything? How's it going? Should we be optimistic about what it's going to do?
Like you, Huw, I think we're just waiting to hear what they come up with. I understand there's a report coming out really soon, so we'll be looking forward to that coming out and having a good look at it. I think only the one comment from us would be that there's not necessarily an end-user representation on that group. So, from the conversation today, infrastructure roll-out is a very engineering, physical-type process, but, actually, the people that are using it are very human. So, it's really important, I think, to get that end-user representation as part of those discussions. And I think my comment would go—. It's a comment about, I suppose, the Welsh Government's approach altogether. You've got the physical infrastructure part of what they do, you've got the great work that they do on digital inclusion, and what there must be is a really joined-up approach so you've got the consumer thread going right the way across through all those discussions. So, I think that's what I'd say there.
Okay, that's a valid point. I don't know if others have comments on this, but the barrier-busting taskforce is designed to remove those technological, engineering and other barriers there, so the consumer voice, I get what you're saying, needs to be in there as well—the end-user voice needs to be in there. But this is going to be one for those technical people to grapple with.
Eto, byddwn i'n ategu beth mae Sian yn ei ddweud. Mae'n ddyddiau cynnar. Dŷn ni ddim yn gwybod eto beth fydd y corff newydd yma yn ei wneud. 'Tasglu chwalu rhwystrau' dwi'n credu y byddwn i'n ei alw fe. Mae'n ddiddorol—mae e, wrth gwrs, yn wahanol i'r un sydd ar gyfer y Deyrnas Unedig. Daeth e allan fel argymhelliad yn adroddiad Comisiwn Seilwaith Cenedlaethol Cymru, ac, yn sicr fel pwyllgor, byddem ni'n cytuno â'r argymhelliad ei fod e'n bwysig i ni gael y corff yma, ond hefyd dwi'n dilyn eu hargymelliadau nhw ei fod e'n bwysig eu bod nhw'n gosod targedau. Er enghraifft, maen nhw'n galw ar y corff newydd yma i osod targed ynglŷn ag argaeledd gwasanaethau 5G, er enghraifft. Mae hynny'n bwysig iawn, yn dilyn y pwyntiau rŷn ni wedi eu gwneud yn gynt ynglŷn â beth rŷn ni'n credu yw pwysigrwydd y gwasanaethau symudol.
Felly, rŷn ni'n disgwyl i weld mwy mas o'r corff yn eithaf cyflym, ac yn sicr rŷn ni'n croesawu ei fodolaeth ac yn disgwyl i weld beth arall maen nhw'n argymell i Lywodraeth Cymru ei wneud.
Again, I'd support Sian's comments. It's early days. We don't know what this body will do. The barrier-busting taskforce, as you call it, of course, is very different to the one for the UK. It came out as a recommendation in the national infrastructure commission's report, and, certainly as a committee, I would agree with the recommendation that it's important to have this body in place, but also follow their recommendations that it's important that targets are set. For example, they're calling for this new body to set a target on the availability of 5G services. That's very important, following on from the comments that we made earlier in terms of the importance of mobile services.
So, I'm expecting to see more from this body quite quickly. We welcome its existence and we look forward to seeing what else it recommends to the Welsh Government.
I would agree with what's been said. In a recent webinar we heard that they have five work strands, and one of them is communication, so we hope that they will listen, and that they come to the consumer as well and hear what the issues are, and that they communicate with the consumer as well as the industry. Thank you.
Ocê, iawn. Wel, mae amser wedi ein curo ni, felly gaf i ddiolch i'r tystion am yr hyn rŷch chi wedi cyflwyno i ni y bore yma? Mae'n werthfawr iawn, ac yn gychwyn ardderchog i'n gwaith ni ar y pwnc yma. Mi fyddwch chi'n cael copi o'r trawsgrifiad, jest i wneud yn siŵr ei fod e'n gywir, a'i fod e'n adlewyrchu'r hyn rŷch chi wedi dweud wrthym ni. Dwi'n siŵr y bydd ambell i gwestiwn, efallai, y byddwn ni eisiau ei anfon ymhellach atoch chi, os ŷch chi'n hapus i ateb y rheini yn ysgrifenedig, gan ein bod ni ddim wedi llwyddo i gyfro'r holl feysydd roeddem ni'n dymuno eu cyfro.
Mi wnawn ni, felly, fel pwyllgor nawr dorri am 10 munud, ac mi wnawn ni ailymgynnull am 10.25 a.m. er mwyn parhau â thystiolaeth y sesiwn nesaf. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Okay, fine. Well, time has defeated us, so may I thank the witnesses for your evidence this morning? It's very valuable, and makes an excellent start to our work on this topic. You will receive a copy of the transcript, just to check for accuracy and that it reflects what you told us. I'm sure there might be some questions that we want to send to you, if you're happy to answer those in writing, as we haven't covered all of the areas that we wanted to cover this morning.
We as a committee will therefore break for 10 minutes and we'll reconvene at 10.25 a.m. to continue with our next evidence session. Thank you very much.
Diolch yn fawr.
Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:16 a 10:27.
The meeting adjourned between 10:16 and 10:27.
Croeso nôl i'r pwyllgor. Rŷn ni'n symud ymlaen at y drydedd eitem, wrth gwrs, sef i glywed yr ail sesiwn dystiolaeth ar waith y pwyllgor ar gysylltedd digidol yng Nghymru, ac rŷn ni'n croesawu panel newydd o dystion. Felly, gwnaf i ofyn ichi efallai jest i gyflwyno'ch hunain, eich teitl a phwy rŷch chi'n ei gynrychioli. Fe ddechreuwn ni ar y chwith gyda Ben.
Welcome back to the committee meeting. We move now to item 3, our second evidence session on the committee's work on digital connectivity in Wales, and we welcome a new panel of witnesses. So, I'll invite you to introduce yourselves, your title and who you represent. And we'll start with Ben.
Bore da. My name is Ben Allwright, and I'm chief executive officer of Ogi.
Elinor Williams, pennaeth materion rheoleiddiol i Ofcom yng Nghymru.
Elinor Williams, principal, regulatory affairs, Ofcom Cymru.
And I'm Connie Dixon. I'm the partnership director for Openreach in Wales.
Grêt. Diolch, a chroeso i'r tri ohonoch chi. Awn ni'n syth i gwestiynau, at Huw.
Thank you, and a warm welcome to all three of you. We'll move immediately to questions from Huw.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. If anybody had said to us, this far into the roll-out of broadband and hyperconnectivity or whatever that we'd still have the situation where Ofcom estimates that 15,000 or 1 per cent of premises cannot get a decent broadband service, a 10 Mbps download speed, from either fixed or fixed wireless networks, people would be amazed. Should we be using public money as a point of principle to connect these premises, and if so, how? That's a big one to start with.
Elinor, wyt ti eisiau dechrau?
Elinor, would you like to start?
Ydw, dwi'n hapus i fynd gyntaf. Gaf i ddiolch i'r pwyllgor am y gwahoddiad?
Yes, I'm happy to start. May I first of all thank the committee for the invitation?
Thank you very much for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be here. I think it's very important to say at the outset how far we've come in terms of digital connectivity. I think you heard from the first panel that the topography and the geography of Wales makes it very difficult to deliver and to connect some of the most rural of places. It's an engineering challenge, and I think some of my colleagues beside me here would be able to tell you a little bit more about that. But, it's complex and it's very, very costly. And I think the premises that are left, the 1 per cent that you mentioned, are in the most rural and in the most difficult to reach areas.
But I think, if we consider where we were five years ago, we've come a very long way. Superfast broadband is at 96 per cent in Wales, and we will publish an update on our 'Connected Nations' report at the beginning of next week, which will show a further improvement in availability of full fibre and in gigabit-capable networks. And the good thing is that, currently, Wales on full fibre is keeping up with the UK average, and that is excellent news. And that is down to private sector investment and activity, and it's supported by a positive policy environment from the UK Government, set out in its strategic statement of priorities, and a positive regulatory environment from Ofcom. So, I think given where we are, there's a vast improvement in availability, but we just need to keep going in order to get to that final few per cent. I think public intervention is going to be essential in order to connect those final few per cents.
If you make the comparison with some of the other utilities that we have—water, natural gas—availability has improved in urban areas; they've been rolled out in urban areas first, and then they get to the most rural, most difficult hard-to-reach areas. That's no different with telecommunications. We've seen it with 3G, 4G, we're seeing it now with 5G, and the same is true for broadband. It's just the way the market works, and I think if you compare what's happening with telecommunications with digital terrestrial television, we got to 97.8 per cent in Wales and we stopped, and the decision was made that it was too costly to go any further. And it was said that all those that weren't able to get DTT had to go to satellite. It's a decision for Governments at the end of the day.
Diolch yn fawr. Okay, we'll go on to Janet then.
Thank you. If money was no object, which technological solutions are most appropriate to connect that 1 per cent of premises that can't get decent broadband?
If money was no object—[Laughter.]—I would suggest that fibre is the most, basically, futureproof, most resilient, more secure, most flexible technology around, but money isn't no object. But, if it were, we would establish a fibre connection to every single premises. But, in the absence of endless pots of money, there are other solutions. We heard the panel earlier talk about things like low earth orbit satellites, we've talked about wireless technologies, 5G. So, there are alternatives around and those technologies improve all of the time, and they're marching ahead quite rapidly now. Of course, ultimately, most of us connect to the internet wirelessly anyway, so it's not as if we're not used to the idea that we connect wirelessly to get broadband services.
So, those technologies are improving. They will fulfil a role in the most difficult-to-reach properties, and we shouldn't pooh-pooh them or consider them too inferior; they really can deliver fantastic services when deployed in the right way. It would be great, wouldn't it, if we could roll out fibre to everyone, but I think we will be left with a very, very difficult 0.5 per cent, 1 per cent where we will be forced to look at alternative technologies, and they will perform adequately in most applications.
So, the question I asked to the earlier panel was: how do we actually get it through to those people who really do feel hard done by because their neighbours have got it and they haven't? How can we empower those few?
It's a bit difficult, isn't it? When we've held up full fibre as the panacea, the only solution, anything less just won't do, it's going to be difficult to re-educate the consumers that, actually, a fantastic connection via 5G is all that they will need, and it will serve their needs well.
But how do we get that out to those communities?
It's an education—.
Because it is difficult when they come to me, even, you know.
Yes. We talked earlier, again, about the role of the local authority and local government in making people aware, and making available sources of information to help people on that journey. A lot of people need a lot of education about broadband, the benefits it can bring, how they can access it, the different technologies, and I do think that the local authority—. If you look at Pembrokeshire, for example, there's a fantastic example of a local authority that have made it, really, a part of their modus operandi that they will go out and educate, inform and support communities in accessing broadband in the best possible way; they're a great example.
Connie, do you want to come in on this, or maybe the previous point about the 1 per cent as well?
Yes, just to echo what Ben said. Full fibre is the gold standard; if money was no object, that should be what we would be aspiring to provide for everybody, but the reality is that that final 0.5 per cent, 1 per cent will be really challenging, and it's going to require industry, it's going to require Government coming together to find out what the solution will be, and it absolutely won't be one size fits all. It will be a combination of fixed, wireless, satellite and other brilliant technologies that will be developed over the next few years as well. So, just to, really, echo what Ben said: if money is no object, we know that full fibre is absolutely what we should be striving for, however, we do need to be realistic and come together to look at what are the right things to be able to try and connect everybody across Wales with a broadband connection.
I have to be honest, I've only learnt today that every authority has a digital officer, so you can bet your life who I'm going to be contacting. Be warned, if they're watching now.
Okay, thank you, Janet. Huw.
It's actually on that point. I don't think I'll be untypical amongst Members of the Senedd or Members of Parliament or even local councillors who, when they're approached by people who say, 'We can't get the same broadband speed as somebody down the road', or, 'We've got absolutely appalling broadband', somewhere in the south Wales Valleys or in rural Wales, we will tend to contact the people that we have on the panel today and say, 'What can we do?' You and the previous panel have directed us very strongly towards local authorities. Can I just ask you how confident are you that—not just Pembrokeshire or Powys or whatever, but every local authority, the Merthyrs, the Blaenaus, the RCTs, the Bridgends, as well as the Cardiffs, and so on—if we directed them to the local authority, they'd be getting that support to empower local communities to devise the right solutions for either their individual property or their street or their neighbourhood? How confident are you? Because both sets of panels have pointed strongly to them.
Shall I? If you want me to answer that, first of all, from my experience, that kind of relationship with local authorities between the infrastructure builders—. Because if you think about it at that starting point: where are our plans? So, Openreach, we've announced that we have got ambitions to connect 25 million homes and businesses across the UK by 2026, and we've shared over 250 exchange areas that are publicly available where we intend to roll full fibre across Wales, and people can go and see on the website where that is.
So, the starting point is: where do we intend to build? Because that relationship with the local authority is absolutely key. To go as far as we can in that build, you have to have the relationship with the local authority, because it's a huge engineering feat. So, it's about communicating with the local authority so they know what's coming, so that they're prepared, and then obviously in turn they can help to share that message with whether it's communities or councillors around what is available and what will be happening.
But, there's another point as well around that adoption of service. So, we talked about 30 per cent of Wales already having access to full fibre. From our perspective, you're looking at 1 in 4 currently on that service. So, it's also as much around letting them know what's already there. It isn't an automatic upgrade, so they do have to shop around for the right package for them for their uses. But, it's about, first of all, making sure that they know what's available now and what's to come.
So, absolutely, the relationships with local authorities are really key, and we find them extremely supportive. I think there's definitely more we can do in how do we support the roll-out of broadband to help us go as far as we can with that commercial investment, so that then any public money can absolutely be directed to that final 1 per cent or final few.
Just accepting what Connie has just said, but I think everybody has got a part to play in making sure that the final few per cent get connected. I don't think it's the responsibility of one organisation or these digital champions in the local authorities. Ofcom has a part to play. Janet mentions some of the terminology we use. That terminology needs to be consistent across everybody's use of it, but people need to be aware of it, what it means, what technology is available and where and how to go about getting it. We mention fixed wireless access, low earth orbit satellite—you know, it's terminology we use every day. I don't expect the likes of my mum and dad to be able to know what it means. I think there is a very, very important role of communication across a lot of these strands and, in that, I think everybody has a role to play.
One area of communication that we've grappled with recently, and we're coming on to another terminology that we're getting more familiar with, I think, is the subject of the next question from Joyce.
It is, and it's about any concerns about the impact of the move to voice over internet protocol. What do people truly understand about that, what do they know about it, and whose job is it to let them know?
Who wants to start with that one?
Ultimately, from a consumer perspective, you want the switch to be pretty transparent, really. Ultimately, it is sort of an inevitable progression of technology, like we've moved from one style of Wi-Fi to the next style of Wi-Fi. Ultimately, you want it to be pretty much invisible to the consumer and for the service to continue to provide the same features, benefits, provide the same social care services that they can currently get through things like red button services. You want the service, really, to provide exactly what they had before, and I think the terminology, even, of VoIP is just confusing. Ultimately, it's a phone line, and it's a phone line that's carried over a different traffic method, but it delivers the same thing to the same devices, providing the same services. The trouble is it doesn't always do that, and the important thing is to make sure that consumers are aware if it requires battery back-up, those kind of things, that those things are really thought about when they take it; if they don't have an alternative phone service, that's really considered when the operator provides them the service as an alternative to their traditional phone line. So, there's a certain degree of education around it, but, ultimately, I think it's a natural progression of technology.
Okay. Janet just wants to come in with something before we go on to Connie.
Yes. In the last two or three years, I've been fighting for every local community in terms of when BT have tried to take away their little red phone box and things or make it non-workable. Wouldn't you agree that, until this particular system really gets to grips with the batteries, we can't have situations where rural communities are completely isolated? And, for some, that phone box, it provides assurance. So, if anyone's listening from BT, leave those red phone boxes.
I think the issue of copper switch-off and when it should happen is really one that Elinor—
Yes, I was going to ask maybe that you could reflect on that as you answer the broader question.
Yes, so it's the—. The switch-off, the migration to voice over IP, is an industry-led initiative. Essentially, the old copper network has come to the end of its life, it needs to be upgraded, and, of course, as more premises are connected to full fibre, the telephone line won't work over the new fibre network, so it needs to be upgraded, and we need to make this migration.
From Ofcom's perspective, we are doing a lot of stakeholder engagement at the moment, making sure that the message is communicated. And from our perspective, we are monitoring the migration, and there are specific sets of regulations and guidance for industry to follow to make sure that the migration happens as smoothly as possible. I'm sure you'll be aware of the fact that BT has paused its migration recently. That's not true for all communications providers, but it's, again, making sure that the message about the migration is communicated, and that mitigations are put in place. So, for the most vulnerable of consumers, the communication providers have to provide battery back-up in the event of a power cut, and that battery back-up has to last for an hour. Our research and data suggests that an hour is sufficient to enable consumers to make calls to family, to the emergency services, of course, and the battery back-up has to exist in order to provide, to make sure that that is okay for consumers. In the absence of that, they have to provide a mobile service on a workable network in the consumer's particular location.
Diolch, Elinor. Connie.
Just on that very point, can I ask another question?
Well, let Connie just respond to the first question first, and then we'll come back to you, Joyce.
Again, really just to echo what Elinor said, it's about industry supporting this and making it as seamless as possible, and particularly looking at what we can do for those more vulnerable groups. So, it is the service providers' responsibility to engage and work with the consumers, but, at Openreach, we're absolutely supporting that, and have been for many years in preparation for the change, particularly working with organisations like Age UK, Citizens Advice, around that messaging and preparations, to ensure that it is as seamless as possible.
Okay, thank you. Back to you, Joyce, thanks.
It is an industry-led initiative, and I accept that things need to progress. But who's paying the price for it? Is it the consumer or the industry that's going to benefit, because, ultimately, our job is to ensure parity for both? So, it's just a fairly simple question to which I'd like the answer.
I think everybody will benefit at the end of the day, because it will be a better technology. It has to happen, because the old network has reached the end of its life—it's not going to work any more in some time. And it will deliver benefits in better quality of technology for consumers. But, as I said previously, I think we just need to make sure that the transition, the migration, happens as smoothly as possible, and with as least disruption to consumers, especially the most vulnerable in society. A couple of weeks ago, Ofcom hosted a stakeholder engagement event with the health sector—one of the sectors that we've identified as being possibly one of the most vulnerable. So, some of the telecare personal alarms that people have, consumers need to make their communications provider aware of the fact that those alarms are connected to their telephone line, so that the communications provider takes that into account when migrating the consumer.
Yes, very important. Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Thank you, Joyce. We move on to Delyth.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Bore da i chi i gyd.
Thank you, Chair. Good morning, all.
There can be huge gaps in broadband speed availability in lots of areas, especially if we compare with the UK average. And the biggest gap will be in 100 Mbps connections and faster. So, what do you think the impact of those gaps are, materially, and how can those gaps be closed, please?
Who wants to go first? I'm looking at either Ben or Connie.
Well, shall I start, and then I'll hand over to you, Ben?
Yes, go for it.
I think probably our responses are going to be very similar. In terms of closing that gap, there is a very real roadmap to doing that across Wales when you look at both Openreach, and other investments from the likes of Ogi. We have plans to roll out full fibre, which will certainly exceed that 100 Mbps gap that you talked about. So, now, and over the very coming years, there will be a huge increase in that availability around full fibre, to large, large parts of Wales. So, that's talking about a gigabit—and, not to get technical, but it far exceeds that 100 Mbps. So, by having that full fibre roll-out plan, as I said, across Wales, we intend to upgrade a large, large part of Welsh premises, through commercial investment alone, to get to those speeds of a gigabit through full fibre.
Okay. Well, let's see how similar your answer is, Ben. [Laughter.]
Aside from those areas that have Virgin Media coverage, which tends to be the larger cities, the majority of Wales has got copper technology, which has been in the ground for many, many years and has served us well. But ultimately, squeezing superfast and higher and higher speeds out of that technology has been a challenge. You've done a great job—the superfast programme is very, very successful. But, ultimately, what we see with copper technology is a very variable service experience, depending on where you live. So, if you live a long way from an exchange, your service experience is still generally much poorer than if you live closer to an exchange or a cabinet. So, whilst we're still living on that copper technology, and that's the primary technology, we're going to see these very large differences in the quality of service and the speeds that people can access.
To Connie's point, we're rolling out fibre—that's the plan, that's what we all want to do. Openreach have big plans, Ogi have big plans, other operators have plans too. So, we want to put the fibre infrastructure in. Competition is driving everybody to accelerate—there are more and more operators entering the market. We're going to bring that amazing experience to everybody, and everybody, hopefully, will have equity of access to many hundreds of megabits as a minimum—up to a gigabit, generally, and beyond. So, we're going to close those gaps; that's the plan. We're going to close those gaps. We're passionate about rolling out fibre; fibre will get to all but the last 1 or so per cent, probably. And that's the plan, and that's what we want to work on together. And where it's commercially tricky, that's where subsidies and Government support can come in and help to close that gap faster.
Ocê. Elinor, rhywbeth i'w ychwanegu?
Okay. Elinor, do you have anything to add?
Na, dim byd. Dim byd mwy, na.
No, nothing more.
Ocê. Grêt. Iawn. Huw.
Okay. Great. Right. Huw.
Could I just define the terms here? When we say roll-out of full fibre to 1 per cent, that sounds absolutely brilliant. Are we talking about full fibre as in fibre to box or fibre to premises? Can we just be clear?
Full fibre to premises—
Right to the premises.
So, people have used 'fibre' before as a bit of a misleading technology. But now, when we talk about full fibre, I think we're all in agreement that we mean to every single front door.
Lovely. Happy days.
Yes, full fibre optic from the exchange to the premises, and no reliance on copper.
Ocê. Grêt. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Janet.
Okay. Great. Thank you very much. Janet.
What needs to be done by stakeholders, including the Welsh Government, Ofcom and broadband providers to help people get online where broadband options exist?
Yes, because we've spoken a lot about where it doesn't exist, but, of course, it does exist in some places and people are still not taking it up.
Yes, I think—. I mentioned earlier that superfast broadband availability in Wales is now at 96 per cent. If you look at our December 'Connected Nations' report, take-up is only at around 63 per cent/64 per cent. There is a big gap and it comes back to my communications point earlier: we need to be able to tell people what is available to them where, and how to go about getting it. And I think everybody has a role to play. We need to communicate that to people and make it easy for people, I think, to get online. I think we don't have to advocate the benefits of being online to anybody by now. I think we've had two years of everybody living their lives online. And just, interestingly, looking at some of the research that we've done recently, on average, individuals in the UK spend three hours and 37 minutes online every day by now. That is more than what we did a week about three or four years ago. So, it's phenomenal. Consumers' expectations of what we need to be able to do online is just increasing every day and we need to make sure that we realise the benefits and that consumers are—that we make it easy for consumers to get online.
Yes. Research by the Welsh Government shows that 7 per cent of adults are not online and that access to online services mirrors other inequalities in society. I know in my own constituency, the percentage of people not able to—[Inaudible.]—the internet or broadband. I know that Welsh Government, early days, used to roll out payment of tutorials for older people—'silver surfers' and things like that; I think that one was called 'silver surfers'. It was a fabulous group, funded by the Welsh Government, but then the funding withdrew, and that was such a shame really, so maybe I'll be asking Welsh Government to bring more of those funded classes in—
Have studies been done to understand the breakdown of the 7 per cent, whether it's awareness, a skills gap, whether it's affordability, whether it's fear? Have studies been done to actually break down the 7 per cent so that we understand the problem to tackle it?
Yes. Well, those are the sorts of questions I'll pose to Welsh Government. But the other thing for me that I find quite fascinating is that the last roll-out scheme didn't include any marketing. I felt really that I was doing the job sometimes, because we were holding public meetings to try and get people aware that this thing didn't switch on overnight. Because I even had one hotelier that said, 'Why is it that all the hoteliers around me have got this new system and I haven't?' And I said, 'Have you actually ordered it?'; 'Yes, I'm sure we have. I'll check.' And he came back and said, 'Sorry, we just didn't know that we had to order it.' They thought that it just was something that switched on automatically. So, again, it's building that awareness up, and, any future roll-out, I do think there has to be more of a PR exercise conducted by the companies, by Welsh Government, by everyone. Because I felt that we really did have to ask the obvious question, 'Have you ordered it?'
Yes. At Ogi, we have a thing we term 'the hyperlocal approach'. So, any community we're going into, we make a strong point of bringing those messages and that awareness in. So, we're holding cafe workshops; we're working with Age Cymru as well. We're trying to work with the local community to raise the expectations and the understanding and the awareness so that people can really understand the utility, what they can get from these new technologies, and how they can benefit them and access them and also working on things like social tariffs as well to make them more affordable and more available.
So, I think it is about engaging with the communities that you go to and taking responsibility as an operator as well to really inform and support people in going on that digital journey. It's amazing, the speed of change and the speed of adoption in general, but, still, there's a lot more that can be done and there are marginalised groups within the communities that just don't have access, don't understand it and we need a lot more support between both industry and, I think, Government as well to really help people get the most out of these technologies. Because, let's face it, the momentum that's behind these technologies—all of the things that are now moving online, so, both work, but also all of the care, telemedicine. So much now is done online, and these people are going to be increasingly marginalised if they can't have access to the technology.
Connie wants to come in.
Again, just to respond to your point, you referenced around Superfast Cymru and now the latest contract that Openreach are delivering in partnership with Welsh Government, and that absolutely is already in momentum to get out with that marketing campaign. There is a point in time that that's agreed where the majority have obviously already been connected, and there are already plans in place around how we'll look to go and actively market through social media platforms, targeting very specific customer groups, and also, then, obviously, the traditional leaflet and flyer drop, which will come from the Welsh Government to inform them that they've been upgraded. So, that is all already part of our marketing and comms plan, so we can share that with you once it's ready to come out.
Sure, and we'll come on to some of the individual initiatives in a minute. I'm just interested in this statistic that was shared with us earlier, and you touched on the social tariff stuff. We were quoted a statistic that the social tariff take-up is only 1.2 per cent of those who are eligible for it. What do you think that tells us about whether that's working or not?
Well, we haven't launched ours yet, so I'll leave this for the other two.
So, I suppose, probably, just looking at it one way is around who has taken it up, obviously using the social tariffs. At Openreach, we've agreed that for anybody on universal credit we will waiver the connection fee for a new connection. But I think there's probably a broader point around the usage of that social tariff and availability. So, one of the key things—. We've talked a lot about the rural notspots. One of the things we've really got to be very mindful of is that, actually, particularly within the more urban areas, mainly social housing or private landlords, where people live in multi-dwelling units, in flats, we could have a real challenge there around ensuring that they've got access to better broadband. It is a real challenge to rolling out full fibre, and that's because we do need a wayleave for each of those buildings, irrespective of whether we've already got a copper network in there. And sometimes it can be very lengthy, very challenging, and we can't always find out who the building owner is or agree those wayleaves, so we've got to be really careful that that group that might ordinarily access that social tariff in the first place have actually got access to better broadband in the first place, particularly in flats. So, it's just something that we've really got to be aware of across Wales, to make sure that we don't have almost that inner-city notspot area as well for, perhaps, more of those groups.
I think Delyth wants to come in on something.
I think Joyce actually had her hand up just before me.
Oh, I'm sorry. Joyce first, then. Sorry.
It's an obvious question, since you didn't answer, any of you, the last one on who pays for the new upgrade. If you've got a social tariff in place, and we know that people are going to have to move to a new system they might not be able to afford, in other words changing their landline to one connected to broadband, when you do that, when you inform your customers, as providers, that in 2025 you're switching off the availability they currently have, will you also let them know about your social tariff, in case—and I think it's quite likely—you're going to capture an awful lot of people on benefits, particularly the older customers?
Who wants to respond to that?
I suppose, just firstly, it's probably an important point to make that, for Openreach, we are a wholesaler, so we wholesale the services to the service provider. We don't have that direct relationship with consumers, so I'd probably pass the specific question onto, perhaps, other retail providers, either here or at a later date, around how they would offer that to the end customer.
I think that's a bit of work we still have to do, to be honest. We've been operating for 18 months, so I don't think that's something we've fully considered yet.
Okay. Delyth wants to come in, as does Janet, and then we will move on to our next areas of questions. Delyth.
Just briefly, is there anything more that you think could be done? I know that automatic enrollment onto the social tariff may be complicated because of the practical issues that Constance was laying out, but is there more you think that could be done to get closer to—? It's similar to Joyce's question, in terms of can people either be made aware or can it be done as close to automatically as possible, rather than getting people to be made aware and then have to choose to opt in. Because if people have different things, if they're facing multiple disadvantages, if people are leading chaotic lives because of different disadvantages, it might mean that even if they know that something is available, if they've got to go through lots of different hoops, they just might not do it.
Okay. Let's hear from Janet as well, and then we can address both—
Yes. A really simple question: is it as simple as just plugging your phone into the internet, or do you need a different telephone, and are those phones more expensive than a conventional phone?
You've gone back to the voice over internet protocol, have you?
Yes, okay. Well, let's deal with Delyth's question first, then, about how do we create that additional awareness or can it be automated in some way, or related to some of the information that we have about customers.
Okay, we don't know. That's fine. We don't have to answer every question if we don't have anything to add.
We don't necessarily have anything to add on that at the moment.
Like I say, it's a tariff in the making for us. We don't have it yet.
It is something we consider—we think there's a role for a social tariff. How you make people aware of it, who has the right to access that tariff, I think that's something we need to work through.
That's fine. And, you know, this session is all about us identifying some of these areas that maybe we need to pursue further as a committee with relevant stakeholders. So, that's okay. So, coming back to Janet's question, then, about whether you need any particular additional kit. I mean, I—
'No, you don't' is the answer.
I've had my switchover, and it was seamless and it was great.
You take your existing phone, and you plug it into the new port provided on the new piece of equipment.
Yes, okay, great.
One of the interesting challenges can be things like extension wiring. So, if you've got a traditional socket served by BT, or Openreach, and all the extension wiring runs around the house, you've got multiple telephones, then, actually, there can be a little bit of re-plumbing required to mimic the same layout. But fundamentally, it does the same thing.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr. Okay, we'll move on then to Delyth for our next area of questioning.
Diolch, Cadeirydd. Elinor was talking about the importance of communicating with communities, and Openreach is being funded by the Welsh Government to connect thousands of properties to superfast broadband. Constance, I don't want to ask you to mark Openreach's homework here, but how effectively—? Or, Constance, first of all, then, could you talk us through how Openreach are communicating with communities about this, and how effective you think Openreach is in doing doing this, and if other members of the panel had any thoughts on it as well, please?
Obviously, the current contract that we have in partnership with the Welsh Government was originally for 26,000 properties, and that's all full fibre. So, there's no fibre to the cabinet; it's all full fibre, ultrafast full fibre that we're rolling out. So, it was originally for 26,000 properties and then that was increased to 39,000 properties with an extension, and that extension was key in that it targeted the local authority areas that had the lowest level of broadband connectivity, so particularly Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd, Powys, Monmouthshire, Ceredigion, so particularly targeted in those areas. I can say here today that I'm really proud of how successful that contract has been, and is: as of today, we've connected over 30,000 customers, so 30,000 people have benefited. And what's really important just to note is they are the ultra rural, so they are those really, really difficult-to-deliver premises. And those 30,000 are quite dispersed, so whereas in the previous contract there may have been whole communities that we were upgrading, now they are smaller clusters where we're obviously building out full fibre.
There's a slightly different approach around communicating because of the parameters of the contract. So, one of the things you have to note is that with added competition into Wales, it means that there is more due diligence that needs to be done. So, properties that might have been considered for the contract to be upgraded, if there are plans from an operator to go there commercially, there's much more added due diligence to ensure that public subsidy is being directed in the right place.
So, a hugely successful programme. Welsh Government and Openreach meet weekly. Every week, there is a full comprehensive review of the design that's for each of these communities, the costs, and there's a number of checks that go in, and it's at that point there is an approval to build or not. So, we've already approved over 35,000; there are 30,000 that are built, and once we get to a certain point in the contract, we'll be communicating that to all of those customers, to give them absolute certainty. That's a real conscious decision, because I think lessons learned from previous contracts are that it's about giving certainty to people. So, once that approval-to-build decision is made, they will be connected, so we won't be in a position where people think they're going to be upgraded through the programme, and then find that they aren't and that they've fallen out. There's absolutely certainty provided. And it's at that point that the message will change on the Welsh Government website and the Openreach website to say, 'We are building full fibre.'
So, it's a very conscious decision in terms of communicating, but to be clear that, once the decision is made, then those premises will benefit. And then, once the connection is built, we've got a big campaign that's currently being worked through to go out and communicate with those households. So, it's hugely successful and there are lots of benefits that have already been provided to what are very rural communities.
Ocê. Delyth, hapus?
Okay. Happy, Delyth?
Hapus, ie. Diolch.
Yes, happy. Thank you.
Ie, ocê. Diolch yn fawr.
Yes, okay. Thank you very much.
Okay, we'll move on to Joyce, then. Joyce.
There are lots of broadband initiatives. There's Access Broadband Cymru, local broadband fund and the gigabit voucher scheme. First of all, are they effective? And if we're moving into a new age, let's say, do they need changing? Are there new schemes that you think would be more useful?
Well, I can talk about our experience of the gigabit voucher scheme, which we've used quite extensively at Ogi, which we've found to be extremely useful. Ultimately, our build is largely focused on commercially viable areas, but where we want to enter areas that have a particularly high cost profile, either because we can't access existing duct infrastructure to bring the cost down, or the frontages of buildings are just very high, or the building's very remote, the use of the gigabit voucher scheme has been really, really good—it's been good. It's not a scheme that's without challenge, but it's been good. And the Welsh top-up as well, on top of that scheme, has been really good at making that money go further. So, our experience of that has been good, and we think that scheme should continue.
Of course, now, under Project Gigabit, there is a range of other subsidies coming in, looking at small, medium and larger lotting strategies to allow greater swathes of white premises, premises that won't be built by commercial operators, to access funding subsidy. So, we think that the current plans under Project Gigabit, as long as they avoid accidentally putting public money into areas that would, ultimately, be commercially built, would be really powerful ways to accelerate and expand the build of commercial operators. So, in general, we think that the scheme's very good, and we've welcomed the open-market review and the public review consultations with the UK to review that. So, we're looking forward to seeing what comes out of that work to help us go further. We're certainly seeing the strategy of, if you like, building the more commercially viable areas, say, a town, a post-industrial town, or a market town, and then using a doughnut strategy, where you introduce vouchers to allow you to go much further beyond, if you like, the logical boundaries of those towns, to go further, as being a really useful addition to our plans. But we'll see what comes out of the public review. I'll hold back a bit of judgment.
There we are. Okay. Thank you, Ben. Connie.
I can talk about our experience of using gigabit vouchers, particularly for our fibre community partnerships, and so much so that, actually, we've had a huge influx of communities, over the last two years, looking to work with us on a community fibre partnership. Over the last two years, we've worked to contract with over 3,500 premises typically using gigabit vouchers. There's been a slight adaptation to our approach. Typically, we would wait for communities to contact us through our portal, and then we'd work with them to design schemes. They tend to be smaller, more isolated communities. But also we've done a proactive approach where we've been able to model and look at communities where we think we could work with the community, get a decent level of demand, and then use the vouchers to proactively offer that as a service. That's been hugely successful this year, and it's meant that you haven't had to be reliant on a community lead. Typically, where you get a really strong community lead that works with us, they're the most successful to date, but, actually, this is an alternative to that and it means that you've got the balance of both, so that we can offer it into communities and we can work reactively with communities. But, yes, as I said, it's been hugely successful.
And then, just adding on to that point around that doughnut effect, if you look at areas, such as, and I'm going to name Burry Port in Carmarthenshire, that's an area where full fibre is in the 90 per cent there, and that's as a result of us going with commercial investment, and then using vouchers to go to those really hard-to-reach areas within that community. So, you really can start rolling out and using your commercial investment to go as far as you can and directing subsidy to those that really need it.
Okay. Before we come to Elinor, then, let's hear from Huw and then maybe we can pick up on that point as well.
I'm just wondering, Chair, whether you're able to share with the committee after the meeting today any geographic analysis of that rise in level of intensity of engagement, that proactive engagement that could show us where that's happening and how it relates to the analysis you've done of where it needs to be happening as well. I think that that would be quite useful. It's not commercially sensitive, I assume.
It is a very simple approach: where do we see the cost to build and the volume of people at the end of that that would take up the service? Can we put in our commercial contribution and then would vouchers be able to cover that build? So, we've kind of done that and offered that out, particularly in areas in Anglesey, Gwynedd and Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. We've got examples of that.
So, you'd be able to share some of that information with us?
Yes. Some of those schemes are live and are being built at the moment, so, yes, absolutely.
Excellent. Okay. Elinor.
I agree with both Ben and Connie. But also, I don't think it's for Ofcom to comment on the success of the schemes, only to say that, without the schemes, a large number of premises in Wales wouldn't have been connected. And if I can just speak for a few moments from a personal perspective about the Access Broadband Cymru scheme, it was an early intervention by the Welsh Government, unique to Wales, and I think it's been invaluable in connecting a lot of premises in Wales. I, for one, live in a village at the end of the M4 in west Wales and we've been reliant on fixed wireless access for a very long number of years until full fibre came available. A village of around 150 premises all applied for the Access Broadband Cymru scheme and it was invaluable in connecting us. And it has been great, and I think, looking to the final few per cent, going back to the earlier questions about which technologies are available, I think fixed wireless access has a key role to play in filling the gaps. You know, it's not full fibre, it's not that gold standard that Connie spoke about earlier, but it is so much better than nothing.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr. Ken, you want to come in on this as well.
Thanks, Chair. I was just wondering, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change has said that the UK Government's gigabit voucher scheme has failed to reflect the true cost of deploying in the Welsh landscape. Would you agree with this?
It's sort of difficult to comment, really. There will obviously be times when the gigabit voucher scheme is appropriate and the right size, but there will be times when it isn't enough. I mean, there are premises that literally lie kilometres away from their nearest neighbours, and frankly, we're into tens or hundreds of thousands to connect those. So, it really depends on which segment the Minister was referring to. In the main, we've found the gigabit voucher scheme, including the Welsh top-up scheme, to be adequate to cover a lot of the communities we'd be looking at.
Is that a view that you share, as Openreach? Sorry, Ken, you wanted to come back.
Yes, sorry. I was just going to ask: is the Welsh landscape distinctly different to other parts of the UK, where the gigabit voucher scheme is being taken up by a considerable number of customers?
There are obviously a large number of rural properties, because of the geography. I don't know if you could make that sort of sweeping statement. I mean, there are lots of rural parts of the UK, but there are obviously a lot of rural properties in Wales, so if you are looking to tackle the hardest first, then potentially you're going to find that these subsidies are not enough.
I think the topology of Wales is absolutely key. So, the gigabit voucher scheme has been hugely successful. I touched on the number across Wales that we've worked with in the last two years, and I think part of that has been driven by—. You know, we reflect on communication, and I look at four years ago, the volume of communities working with us in community fibre partnerships across Wales was relatively low. That's hugely increased over the last two years as a result of communicating and promoting the scheme as an option and working with various stakeholders, hence why we've got more people that are being connected using vouchers. However, we can't get away from the fact that they are, in their very nature, targeting the rural and the harder-to-help, because they are rural vouchers. And then, when you look at the topology of Wales and the proportion of Ofcom area 3 in Wales, it is significantly higher than the rest of the UK.
So, I think we have to be very real to the fact that, as we get into those more challenging areas across Wales, it will be a more challenging and therefore more expensive build. But to look at the vouchers so far, and the top-up that's been available, we can look at and see, just by pure volume of how many communities have benefited, that it's been successful.
Okay. Diolch yn fawr. Thank you, Ken. Delyth.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Sorry to the host. I always do this; I always unmute myself and then we have a little dance between us, so sorry about that.
Don't touch. Yes, don't touch any buttons. [Laughter.]
No, I shouldn't touch anything. Sorry. Could you please talk us through how effective you think the universal service obligation is in this context?
Right, who wants to start? Elinor.
Well, I'll try. So, I think it's accepted that the universal service obligation is a safety net. Yes, it's an intervention of last resort, I think, and the 10 Mb is there. You know, 10 Mb—at the time, Ofcom did a lot of work around what we considered was a decent connection, and we decided that 10 Mbps download, and 1 Mb upload, was sufficient for the majority of families' needs to do the kinds of things that they need to do every day. It was implemented in March 2020, and BT was designated as the provider, with KCOM, if you live in Hull. But, you know, we estimate that there are around just under 15,000 homes and premises in Wales that do not have access to what we call decent broadband and could be eligible for the USO.
So, if you look at some of the communities that have been connected, in our last 'Connected Nations' report, I think there were around 600 premises connected at the time—some in Brithdir, some in Pandy, in north-east Wales—that have been successful. But a few months into the USO being made available to consumers, it became apparent that there was something not quite right with the way that it was working, and consumers who were registering were being given ridiculously high quotes to be connected, which made Ofcom think that something was not quite right. So, we investigated and it was decided that the way in which BT were working out the quotes for consumers needed to be amended. And we've done that. There is a cost criteria, so if the cost of connecting premises is less than £3,400, there's no cost to the consumer. If it's above £3,400, then we expect the consumer to pay a contribution towards being connected. But, you know, it is successful insofar as it does give consumers the right to request a 10 Mb connection. And as I think you heard in the first session, what we find is that some of the connections that are made using the USO, you don't just get 10 Mb, you get full fibre. So, in that respect, it is successful. I think the ambition was always there to give people the right to request—a legal right to request 10 Mb—but I think, in reality, what we find is that, because of the 15,000 premises being in the final few per cent, being in the hardest-to-reach areas, the cost of getting to those premises are very, very high.
Huw wants to ask a supplementary.
Yes. And sorry, Delyth, if you were going to ask this, but I was very taken by that cryptic comment there, that BT's calculations may not have been appropriate or whatever. Sorry, I'm not putting words into your mouth. Can you expand on that a little bit? Were they overestimating contributions? What was that—?
No, I don't think they were overestimating, there was just a lack of clarity, I think, in—. As part of the general conditions that Ofcom put on BT on the way they managed the USO, they were required to assume that there would be 70 per cent take-up of services in a particular area, and then they were supposed to share the costs of the build equally among those 70 per cent of premises, and for some reason or other, it wasn't clear that, in some cases, that's what they were doing. In some cases, where there were high quotes,