Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

11/05/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell AS
Huw Irranca-Davies AS
Janet Finch-Saunders AS
Joyce Watson AS
Ken Skates AS Yn dirprwyo ar ran Jenny Rathbone
Substitute for Jenny Rathbone
Llyr Gruffydd AS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ben Allwright Ogi
Ogi
Constance Dixon Openreach
Openreach
Dr Sian Phipps Panel Defnyddwyr Gwasanaethau Cyfathrebu
Communications Consumer Panel
Elinor Williams Ofcom
Ofcom
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
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

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.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

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.

2. Cysylltedd digidol yng Nghymru - sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
2. Digital connectivity in Wales - evidence session 1

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.

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.

09:35

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.

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.

09:40

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?

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.

09:45

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?

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?

09:50

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.

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. 

09:55

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.

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.

10:00

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.

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? 

10:05

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.

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.

10:10

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.

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.

10:15

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.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:16 a 10:27.

The meeting adjourned between 10:16 and 10:27.

10:25
3. Cysylltedd digidol yng Nghymru - sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
3. Digital connectivity in Wales - evidence session 2

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.

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.

10:30

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.

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.

10:35

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.

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?

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. 

10:40

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. 

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. 

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.

10:45

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?

Well, shall I start, and then I'll hand over to you, Ben?

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.

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—

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.

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.

10:50

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.

10:55

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.

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?

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.

11:00

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?

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.

You take your existing phone, and you plug it into the new port provided on the new piece of equipment.

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.

11:05

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.

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.

11:10

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. 

Yes. Some of those schemes are live and are being built at the moment, so, yes, absolutely. 

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.

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.

11:15

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.

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?

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.

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, they were genuinely high quote because of where the premises were, but we liaised with BT and we have put measures in place now to make sure that they do work out the quotes as they are supposed to be. Insofar as we are monitoring the progress of the USO, it is working as it should now. 

11:20

Thank you, Chair. Ogi talk about the benefits of public-private co-operation, for example in Pembrokeshire. How can this good work practice be rolled out more widely?

We've had a good experience working with a number of local authorities, but I'd say that Pembrokeshire is a bit of a shining example for us of how it can work. They have clearly put full fibre and connectivity as a strategic priority for that authority, which I think underpins the way they operate. They do a great job of pulling together the private sector, the communities involved, the available subsidies, and they help, really, to generate awareness, help build demand and help find solutions, basically, between those parties to actually address each community's needs. So, we've really been impressed by that model, and we think that if more local authorities made broadband and fibre a strategic priority and worked with the likes of ourselves and other commercial operators, more could get done. So, yes, we're big advocates and find their approach particularly refreshing.

And are you aware of any work that's been done with Pembrokeshire and their digital broadband delivery programme team? I wonder if any other local authorities have thought to themselves—. Are they aware of how well it's—? Because I've always found there's been some, between local authorities—especially in north Wales, where something's working well, there's a lot of regional working. Is there an awareness?

We certainly talk about them a lot, and we promote them a lot. So, hopefully that will have some impact—

But, yes, I think more local authorities should go and look at what they're doing. They are an inspiring bunch, and they're really good at helping us work through things like barrier-busting issues, things that are really practical issues that would make our roll-out slower or more expensive, or mean that we could get to fewer properties. They're really there, helping us go the extra mile, and then, of course, as an operator, it makes you much more inclined to find solutions yourselves, so it really becomes quite a partnership to solve quite thorny challenges. We're talking about some of the hardest-to-reach properties, where we're looking to find a collective solution.

I'm not hard to reach, and I've got both your connections straight outside my door, because I live in Pembrokeshire. My question is this: we focus very heavily on where we are now, but you have to focus on where we're going, and where we're going at the moment is lots of houses being built, and we don't want to be retrofitting those estates, very large estates, actually. There's one not far from where I live, and where Ogi has just connected, being built as we speak. So, my question is this, to both of you: are you engaged in the planning process with local authorities—this is about engaging with local authorities—ensuring that you're putting the broadband, as described here, in those new properties so that all the digging up of roads, inconvenience and lack of availability isn't going to happen in the here and now?

'Yes' is the answer. The new developers have the flexibility option to go to a number of potential providers of broadband services in their builds, so they may or may not choose to ask Ogi to be a provider, or any other operator. So, we rely a little bit on them wanting to engage with us so that they actually create an engagement, and what we'd like to see is, certainly, the legislation change around home building such that a fibre connection had to be provided as part of that build. I'll let you come in, Connie, because you mentioned it yesterday.

11:25

Yes, absolutely. Joyce, you've made a really, really key point. We've talked a lot about white properties and how we're going to keep—. We're constantly chasing that magic number, and the more and more homes that are built without full fibre connectivity, you're going to stay at 95 per cent, 96 per cent, because for every one that we try really, really hard to connect, through USO, though vouchers, through commercial, more are popping without anything. So, at Openreach, we work with all of the major developers and full fibre is offered, for free, for plots of 20 or more, and we offer a rate card. So, we ask for a very small contribution from the developer to build full fibre into plots of two or more. And, in the majority, about 90 per cent of developers opt for full fibre. So, on full fibre, they work with us pre plan, so we work with them as part of that planning stage. The really key point for Wales, though, is that we have more smaller developments across Wales, generally, and it's where those properties are being built without full fibre. So, absolutely one of the key opportunities here is to mandate gigabit in new builds. Wales has already gone really far in the sense that, for social housing, there is a requirement for gigabit technology. But we would really, really welcome that being mandated across private developments as well.  

I think, increasingly, home builders are really alive to this. Persimmon Homes, which is one of the major home builders, actually created their own internet service provider company. So, they're putting their own infrastructure and run their own ISP to satisfy this. So, the first question when you buy a new home is: has it got decent broadband? So, I think they're alive to it. It's just the consistency, and moving to the point where it was legislated so that, at the very minimum, everybody had fibre would be a very smart thing to do.

Just one small follow-up. That's quite interesting that Persimmon's been receiving some praise for that. It's good to hear. Are there any worries over new house buyers being tied in?

Yes, I think that's a monopolistic position. So, I'm not a big fan of Persimmon doing that, per se, but I do think at least somebody's putting the fibre infrastructure in. But, yes, what we want is fair access, right. Anybody who provides infrastructure wants fair access to those new premises to be able to offer consumers a genuine choice.

So, should this committee be taking an interest in the step forward that is, undoubtedly, that big house builders are considering putting the infrastructure in? But we've seen it in other areas, Chair, where there is then a monopolistic position, saying, 'You are now tied in.'

Yes, it's a concern, for sure.

Open access to the network—one of the benefits is that consumers get choice, and there is lots of great work being done across the industry with different infrastructure providers working with developers to share infrastructure so that you're not digging up more than once. So, yes, but I think, for us, there is a real opportunity here around the mandation of gigabit, whether that's open access or not. Obviously, we'd love for it to be open access, but the primary point is that we're not building more premises across Wales without decent broadband.

Well, this is taking us on now to the next area of questioning, actually, so it's really good that we're going there. So, I'll invite Joyce, maybe, to come in with a few questions.

I'll open with that question: do consumers have enough choice in their broadband infrastructure providers? And how aware consumers are of the options provided by smaller broadband providers? And I ask that because you talked about small-scale developments.

Do you mind if I come in on that?

A large proportion of Wales really only has one major provider, which is Openreach. Openreach is regulated, they provide wholesale products, and a myriad of retailers then provide services to consumers over that. That's a model. Some areas of Wales have Virgin Media. I think Cardiff, Swansea and Newport in particular have Virgin Media as an alternative infrastructure provider. But, like I say, large parts of Wales really have no infrastructure competition, and we're here to change that. Ultimately, we want to bring in an alternative infrastructure—genuinely competitive infrastructure for public services, for consumers, for businesses et cetera. We are great believers in infrastructure competition. We've raised £200 million for our first plan. That's a first phase of a plan to roll out to at least 500,000 premises, and we believe that is the best way to give everybody more choice and it should benefit everybody.

And just to add to that, I think the regulatory environment as well is changing, so it makes the investment in building network, I suppose, more attractive for alternative builders, particularly where you've got something called passive infrastructure access. So, in a lot of cases, new entrants into the infrastructure/building market, as such, will be able to access the ducts and the poles that Openreach have. Now, there are two really important points on that: No. 1 is it's about, you know, competition is good, and the more that is available, the more that we can get to cover all of Wales, so we're really welcoming competition in that sense; secondly, the disruption is minimised as well, in terms of digging up roads, putting up poles, so that sharing-of-infrastructure approach is really important. There is something more that we can be doing, and it's something we're working with DCMS on, and it's around automatic upgrade rights. So, where we do have access via wayleaves for poles, if we've got a wayleave for a copper infrastructure, we really want to be able to automatically upgrade to full fibre, and that's a really big opportunity for a look at that across Wales, which will not only benefit Openreach, it'll benefit everybody that's building broadband across Wales. So, again, it's a really good opportunity to look at how we can go further.

11:30

Yes, it's probably just worth mentioning that the things that Connie and Ben have both mentioned are as a result of some of the regulatory decisions that Ofcom has made in the past few years. So, anybody who's interested in quite an intense read, I'd suggest reading our wholesale fixed telecoms market review, which runs into hundreds of pages, but essentially it sets the rules and decisions around our regulation of the fixed telecoms industry, and that underpins broadband, mobile and business connections. Those decisions are there to promote investment in gigabit-capable networks, and some of those decisions, as Ben mentioned, are about taking different regulatory approaches in different parts of the UK depending on the level of competition in that particular area. It's, as Connie mentioned, incentivising Openreach to invest by taking away some of the risks associated with the riskier investments, and as we've previously mentioned about the migration to voice, it's about making that migration as smooth as possible, and early indications—. The current wholesale fixed telecoms market review runs from 2021-26, so it's early days, but early indications show that some of the decisions we made in that document are working and they are promoting investment. So, we are seeing new entrants like Ogi come to compete against Openreach, accepting that maybe Openreach will always be the biggest infrastructure provider, but competition is so important and providing that choice to consumers is also essential.

So, is it fair to say that there is less competition in Wales, for example, compared to the rest of the UK?

Yes, absolutely. Yes.

So, what does the Welsh Government need to do, then, in terms of using its regulatory powers to maybe improve the commercial viability of broadband roll-out? Those are the kinds of things that we need to pose to them.

I would just like to say that what Ofcom did to regulate and open up the Openreach infrastructure has been game changing for the industry. There are 140 altnets in the UK now.

A hundred and forty alternative network operators in the UK. That's a rough number. And a lot of that is due to the work that Ofcom did to allow access to the Openreach duct and pole infrastructure, so the fact that we can now install fibre cables in the existing BT or Openreach duct, and put our fibres on an Openreach pole, has had massive benefits because it's brought the commerciality, the viability of installing new infrastructure into the reach of so many more premises in the UK. It's been game changing, so that’s really good.

The market is already bringing new entrants into Wales. Ogi won't be the first or the last new entrant in Wales. The market, particularly through the use now of PIA, is already coming this way, and there will be other operators that will come in to serve the need. I think what needs to happen is happening. I think the BDUK Project Gigabit will bring others still, and the fact that subsidies can be found to get to the harder-to-reach premises will bring more operators still. I think it's a really buoyant market. I think the work that the Welsh Government did on the trunk road concession, which is a concession contract that Ogi won that allows us to install fibre cables in existing ducts alongside the motorways and fast roads, again, has been a real game-changer for us. So, those kinds of initiatives—access to existing infrastructure, welcoming in new operators, and Project Gigabit—will all bring the market to Wales. 

11:35

Thanks. That's a really optimistic scenario of, 'The right things are in place, it's going to happen, the competition is going to arrive.' Is it just, then, that potential innovators within this marketplace have just been slow to look west? Why is England so—?

People tend to do the easier stuff first. 

That is just natural. The easiest, cheapest stuff gets done first. 

It's a lot easier to build Coventry and Birmingham. That's just the reality of this. It's easier, it's cheaper, the houses are more densely together. It's just a lot easier. This is a tricky, tricky part of the world. 

If you look at it as a business case, to that point, it's about how you make a return in a certain period. And this isn't a quick, overnight—. Some of the returns that we're looking at might mean that it's 10, 20 years' time before you get a return on your investment. So, you have to really think hard about where you invest. And it's relatively simple, and I'll simplify it. It's not in the detail, but it's relatively simple: what is the cost of build and how many people can you sell your services to? And when you look at that cost to build, the topography of Wales does make it typically more expensive, because we've got more homes that are dispersed. When you think about building full fibre, it's like a tree: so, you've got the tree trunk, and you go into the branches and the twigs, and the further you get out, you might have a very small—. It's a very simple way to describe it. If you look at a city, it's very small, like a bush, and then you look at rural parts of Wales and it's like a huge oak tree, and you've got to get to the very top. That's it. So, when you look at the cost to build for that one person at the very end of the twig, it's very expensive at a cost per premises.

So, I do think, if I talk as Openreach, our experience of building in those rural areas has meant that we've been able to be more innovative and bring the cost of building to rural areas down so that, actually, areas that would never have been commercially viable four years ago are now part of our commercial investment plans because we can go there without using a subsidy. So, part of it is around track record and consistently developing new techniques around how you actually build the fibre itself, and then I think it's more around—. There is always more we can do around the time it takes to deploy—because that's it: it's all about time. So, how can you make it really efficient for people to build, whether that's Openreach or whether that's Ogi. So, there are things that we could be looking at. They are things like flexi permits. At the moment, I think, we've estimated that it's thousands and thousands of permits for the local authorities when we want to work on a road, and, actually, could we have a slight tweak and, rather than having an individual permit for every single thing that we do, could we have flexi permits where you might have a cluster of roads over a certain period and you can work in that period, so that you're stopping that stop-start scenario of building up fibre and being much more efficient. So, there are very practical things. I would say mandating full fibre in homes is really key, because if you've got those rural homes and we can get fibre there, then it's easier to spread from that point. Secondly, it's things like flexi permits and being much more pragmatic in that build. And if I look at an area like Merthyr Tydfil, they have been absolutely brilliant in our commercial roll-out, and the volume that we were able to deliver in a very short space of time meant that we were able to go beyond what we anticipated in terms of our commercial investment and go to those really hard-to-reach areas with that same budget. So, it really is about being as efficient as we can to attract people in.

Gwych iawn. Ocê. Wel, dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni fel pwyllgor wedi gwyntyllu'r holl feysydd roedden ni'n awyddus i'w trafod gyda chi, felly gaf i ddiolch ichi o waelod calon am eich tystiolaeth y bore yma? Rydyn ni wedi cael dwy sesiwn ardderchog, dwi'n meddwl, i gychwyn y gwaith yma. Mi fyddwch chi, fel dwi'n dweud wrth bawb, yn cael copi o'r trawsgrifiad drafft jest i'w wirio fe, ond, gyda hynny, diolch o galon i'r tri ohonoch chi am eich tystiolaeth; mae wedi bod yn eithriadol o werthfawr i ni fel pwyllgor. Diolch yn fawr. 

Excellent. Well, I think we as a committee have had an opportunity to discuss all the areas we wanted to discuss with you, so may I thank you very much for your evidence this morning? We've had two excellent sessions, I believe, to kick off this work. As I tell everyone, you'll receive a draft transcript just so you can check it, but with those few words, I thank all three of you for your evidence, which has been very valuable to us as a committee. Thank you very much. 

4. Papurau i'w nodi
4. Papers to note

Mi wnaiff y pwyllgor, felly, symud at eitem 4. Mae yna bedwar papur i'w nodi yn eich pecynnau chi, 4.1 i 4.3 yn y prif becyn, a phapur 4.4 yn y pecyn atodol. Ydy Aelodau'n hapus i nodi'r rheini? Ie. Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

The committee will therefore move to item 4. There are four papers to note and they are 4.1 to 4.3 in the main pack, and paper 4.4 in the supplementary pack. Are Members happy to note? Yes. Thank you. 

5. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
5. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 (vi) and (ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Gyda hynny, felly, fe wnawn ni symud i sesiwn breifat, a dwi'n cynnig, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi) a (ix), fod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu cynnal gweddill y cyfarfod yn breifat. Ydy Aelodau'n fodlon â hynny? Pawb yn fodlon. Dyna ni. Mi wnawn ni symud, felly, i sesiwn breifat. Diolch yn fawr. 

We will therefore move to private session, and I propose, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) and (ix), that the committee resolves to meet in private for the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content? Everyone is content. Okay, we'll move to private session. Thank you. 

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:39.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 11:39.