Superfast broadband – expanding the mobile network in rural Wales

There’s no question that as our society becomes increasingly reliant on technology and connectivity, having a reliable – and fast – broadband connection and mobile phone coverage is essential. The current reality of the COVID 19 pandemic is necessitating telephone or video conferencing with clients but this comes with its limitations when the internet capacity for participants is not sufficient for the meeting requirement. For any rural business looking to develop or even continue with business as usual a working internet connection is essential, and far too many rural properties do not have a level playing field when it comes to their connection.

The Government has been investing for a number of years but particularly in rural Wales the incentives have not delivered for roll out intended so they are increasing the budget. Since our last blog on broadband back in 2017, there has been a recent boost for the funding.

Here at Baileys and Partners we have a wealth of experience when it comes to providing utility connection advice and professional services to both landowners and utility companies.

We recently acted for a micro hydroelectric scheme developer in rural North Wales. Their hydro scheme needed a fibre connection to its turbine house to allow data to be exchanged with metering companies. The connection enables remote access to the hydro system to enable minor turbine adjustments which optimise its efficiency. Baileys and Partners has organised the new Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) connection and worked with BT Openreach to make it happen.

Although the roll out of broadband is ongoing, some regions have found that take up by residents and businesses is low. Welsh Government recently announced in June 2020 a doubling of the value of vouchers that suppliers can apply for to make a connection to a property. A broadband connection for a domestic property is now £3,000 per property and for a commercial property (Small to Midsized enterprise – SME) it is £7,000 per property. For a farmhouse with diversification of two holiday cottages this means that the farm as a SME would qualify for £7,000 and the holiday cottages for £3,000 each. It starts to make connections to remote properties more achievable.

The website for the voucher scheme is Baileys and Partners would be pleased to offer additional support to clients, either with the installation of the new connections or the developments that a superfast broad band connection might facilitate – office conversion, holiday accommodation development etc. The scheme works that you approach an installer and they claim the voucher from the Government. There may still be additional costs that you have to pay directly to the installer if the cost of connection is still greater (than the voucher scheme) for your particular property.

Alternatively, if the additional funding is not covering the cost of installation then there could be a more local solution which was explained at the Baileys and Partners conference back in 2018 by a guest speaker David Phillips who explained how their community (Michaelston-y-Fedw) came together to dig the trenches lay the cable and ultimately claim the grant to enable a connection to their community.

Public-private investment solutions are explored in an article in the RICS Modus magazine (page 50) which was written by Phillip Morris of AP Wirleless. The article also highlighted Michaelston-y-Fedw as a good example of creative and beneficial solutions.

In addition to fibre broadband there is also a push to expand mobile phone coverage in anticipation of the arrival of 5G networks, which will require a significant increase in the number of mobile phone masts. Baileys and Partners has a number of clients that are renewing, agreeing terms for leases or involved with option agreements for new mast sites. Our expertise ensures that we can help them achieve the best terms and outcomes for their role in the digital infrastructure roll out.

Baileys and Partners is also looking at novel arrangements which maximise the return that the landowner receives from the telecom mast. The necessity for novel arrangements is partly driven by the Electronic Communications Code (see previous blogs) and the difficulties that some network operators are causing by their interpretation of the new laws.

With the current COVID 19 restrictions, access to the internet from home and work is more important than ever. Baileys and Partners is flexible with its options for meetings now – we can arrange an initial meeting outdoors and socially distanced, a phone call or if your internet can cope via zoom, google meetings or any other video conference option you prefer!

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