Wispa Limited go public on their dismay for the state of broadband in Wales, and point the finger of blame firmly at those responsible.
The time for talking has ended - let's get on with it now.
(1888PressRelease) July 01, 2011 - Broadband in Wales is shockingly bad. Not only in rural areas - all the way across Wales there are people without access to broadband at speeds that others across the UK consider to be normal.
With hundreds taking up the Welsh Government's Broadband Support Scheme, surely this is part of the answer to getting people above a 2Mbps threshold? Not according to Wispa Limited COO Richard Brown:
"2Mbps is a pitiful aspiration. Across the globe there are countries considered by some in the West to be developing nations where 40Mbps access is totally normal, and even in the UK 6.2Mbps is the average reported by Ofcom"
"Wales lacks the ambition at influential levels to be leaders in the digital landscape, and companies such as BT are holding the entire nation behind our global peers".
It seems that the single biggest issue is that whilst the Welsh Government are offering households and businesses who are unable to achieve 512Kbps broadband speeds, up to £1000 to install alternative broadband provision, this in itself creates it's own issues.
"Why should Mr and Mrs Jones know what alternatives are available to them? How do they select broadband provision that is appropriate to their circumstances? We are dangling a false carrot in front of our citizens, and expecting them to become communications experts," an angry Brown stated.
In order to attract the funding, potential subscribers have to select provision from a business that can deliver speeds in excess of 2Mbps, and can do so for at least 12months. This has created a gold rush mentality in some areas, with companies springing up to deliver the bare minimum, or charging up to £150 per month for 10Mbps access.
Subscribers should not need to be experts in this field, they should be able to simply act as consumers and select the company that seems to deliver the best service for them. However, if they want the Government grant, then they had better know how it is going to improve their lives; what services they are intending to use; and what technology they are going to select (satellite, wireless, wimax etc) - because they are required to complete that information on their application form.
BT are hardly stepping up to the plate either. Everyone understands that BT is a commercial entity, and that it has to act in the best interests of its shareholders. However, it was gifted a virtual monopoly, and it is straightforward to see that there is a social responsibility opportunity that satisfies shareholder's modern investment expectations as well.
BT are lobbying Westminster right now to take the £530m that was announced for 'universal broadband', plus they want another £470m. £1bn for universal access to fast, fibre based broadband seems like a good deal (the last estimate for fibre enabling just Wales was £3.6bn). Unfortunately, that is not what BT is proposing. The £1bn would not satisfy the entire of the UK and rural areas (of which there are a lot in Wales) would still be 'uneconomically viable'.
"Enough is enough," said Brown, "subscribers in Wales deserve better; Welsh businesses deserve better . We have to stop the virtual stampede across the border into England of our talented entrepreneurs just because there isn't decent connectivity or sufficient knowledge to pick an alternative provision", he continued.
Brown asserts that Wales can be self sufficient for fast (10Mbps+) broadband - but it takes BT to stop blocking access to poles and building fabric [a comment on the £25 per pole usage fee that is then bumped to over £600 per pole because businesses have to pay BT to fit the equipment], and to become socially responsible. It also takes an independent body to step up and give good advice on the alternatives that are available to subscribers and allow them to make the right choice, for them.
Seems like Wispa Limited have decided that they are going to do 'their bit' and give that advice. Reports on the options for subscribers (based on address details) have been offered via a web form at http://wispa.me, where potential subscribers can complete a simple form and receive a comprehensive report for their location. Totally free of charge to that subscriber.
"We have completed in excess of 100 reports to date, and the feedback has been great," explained Brown, "as a Welsh business I believe we have a responsibility to the people of Wales to share our knowledge, and allow our nation to be all it can be. Tourism, our business community, and our children all need access to fast broadband just to keep up with the rest of the globe, and I refuse to watch Wales become the dysfunctional slum in the online village without at least doing my part to prevent that. Wispa Limited will continue to deliver free reports for anyone that wants them, and I challenge other organisations to get off their backsides and do their bit too."
It is clear that Brown is furious at Ann Beynon (Welsh Regional Director for BT) in particular:
"For goodness sake - I attended an Ofcom meeting where she stated on video that BT would not make any significant investment in Wales unless it was backed by Government money..."
Brown angrily went on to say:
"Beynon is responsible for Wales to BT so it is clear who is holding back the potential of that organisation in our country. Add to this the fact that Ofcom are powerless to do anything to force action; general confusion within our citizens, and a Government who lack the ambition to allow Wales to be great and it is left to us, those who have the knowledge, to make the difference"
When questioned about the Welsh Government's future planned expenditure (believed to be hundreds of millions in taxpayers money), the response was simple:
"Everyone in the industry believes that the contract has all but been written for BT, and no one else will get a look in - it looks like a put up job according to those that I have spoken to. It's time to stop relying on others and actually make a difference ourselves".
The general malaise in Wales cannot be allowed to continue and it isn't enough to simply complain about it. We owe it to our businesses; our economy and our children.