North Wales will be among the UK regions to benefit from a new digital programme aimed at improving connectivity in the public sector.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has approved up to £7million for the area to make the switch from copper-based services to ‘gigabit capable’ full-fibre optic provision, as part of its Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) Programme.
The move will provide locations including GP surgeries, libraries, hospitals and social services with resilient, cost-effective ultrafast broadband connectivity which can be upgraded in the future as new technologies emerge.
Driven by the North Wales Economic Ambition Board – which is made up of the six local authorities, private sector leaders, colleges and universities – the scheme will have a knock-on benefit for communities and households across the counties of Denbighshire, Wrexham, Conwy, Flintshire, Anglesey and Gwynedd.
Gwynedd council leader Cllr Dyfrig Siencyn, chair of the Ambition Board, said the initiative will complement the multi-million pound digital programme which is being prepared for launch in 2020 as part of the North Wales Growth Deal.
“This illustrates our level of ambition in North Wales when it comes to improving digital connectivity.
“Our residents and businesses depend on us to deliver high quality public services and having connectivity is essential to that, whether it is in schools, libraries or in health centres.
“We have to keep pace with what technology can offer our communities and not be left behind other regions who recognise the value of full fibre broadband.”
The LFFN is a flagship initiative from the UK Government to stimulate network operators to extend the reach of gigabit capable broadband across the country. The full extent of the benefits to communities and businesses will not be known until each identified site has been fully surveyed.
The strong rural representation in the Ambition Board’s bid was a highlight for DCMS, helping to ensure all areas reap the benefits of Full Fibre capability.
Margot James, Minster for Digital and the Creative Industries, said:
“We’re building a Britain that’s fit for the future, and our plans for a national full fibre broadband network underpin our modern Industrial Strategy.
“This £7m boost for gigabit speeds in Northern Wales will benefit homes and businesses in rural areas and I congratulate the North Wales Economic Ambition Board in its successful Bid.”
Among the organisations to benefit will be Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, whose Head of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Sion Jones said the investment will have a positive impact on its services.
“ICT is used extensively across the health board, providing access to information systems and other patient centric technologies,” he said.
“The LFFN project will provide us with opportunities to further develop a robust and reliable network infrastructure for the organisation and will result in significantly faster network access which will help improve the effectiveness and productivity of our staff in order to better support patient care.”
With many public buildings in North Wales already equipped with full fibre, this new investment will involve potentially up to 400 more sites.
Surveying is due to start this month, with installation running through to the end of 2020. A significant number of premises in the bid – over 100 – are GP surgeries in both large towns and small villages.
Thirteen public sector organisations are currently in scope to benefit from the investment in North Wales, making public services in the region some of the best connected in the UK. This follows similar investment led by Welsh Government in its LiDW projects to deliver fibre connectivity to schools in recent years.
The upgrades to end sites will be undertaken by BT though the Wales-wide Public Sector Broadband Aggregation (PSBA) contract, which provides connectivity services to nearly 5,000 public sector sites in Wales.
Cllr Siencyn added:
“This was a competitive process and our success is due to close collaboration and partnership working regionally and nationally, with support from colleagues in Welsh Government and the NHS.
“Last year, UK DCMS set us a clear challenge to present a robust bid and have been valuable critical friends along the way. We want to build on this success now, with LFFN being just the start for North Wales.
“The Growth Deal is our next target and we will continue to work with Government and industry to deliver a credible plan for further significant investment in connectivity.”