Welsh homes and businesses that are unable to receive a broadband service are to be offered up to £1,000 each to help address the situation.
The Welsh government will make £2m available for the problem, meaning at least 2,000 homes and businesses in so-called broadband 'notspot' areas stand to benefit. The government defines a notspot as a home or business that cannot receive a 512Kbps service.
The money is to be used towards the capital costs of a connection, but not subscription costs.
"This scheme continues our commitment to provide improved services for rural areas and in particular access to the internet which is critical for those living and working across Wales," Elin Jones, minister for rural affairs for the Welsh government, said in a statement.
A map identifying Welsh broadband 'notspots', areas that cannot receive 512Kbps service (click to enlarge) Credit: Welsh Assembly Government
In late July, individuals and businesses — and community groups acting on their behalf — will be able to bid for funding. Any technology can be used for new connections, including fibre, DSL, cable, mobile or satellite, a spokesman for the Welsh government told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "It is technology neutral and covers the capital cost of the connection," the spokesman said. "BT and Virgin are clearly in the frame."
Depending on the technology used, beneficiaries may be rewarded with anything from a 512Kbps satellite connection up to a 100Mbps fibre line. The spokesman said the Welsh government's aim was to provide broadband lines of over 24Mbps.
The criteria for allocating the funding will be published by the time the bidding process opens.
One analyst questioned whether the funding of £1,000 per home or business would be sufficient. "One thousand pounds is not going to buy you a leased line, or a DSL line if the exchange is not enabled," said Julian Herbert, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media, speaking to ZDNet UK on Tuesday.
Herbert's comments follow the claims of a resident of Salem in rural South Wales, who says BT quoted her in excess of £150,000 for a broadband line. The analyst also said that £2m may not eradicate all Wales' broadband notspots. "In the great scheme of broadband things, it isn't all that much," he said.
Herbert added that roll-out plans over the next 24 months in Wales could duplicate the efforts of the universal service commitment (USC), a Westminster initiative that aims to give all UK homes 2Mbps access by 2012.
The Welsh government spokesman said there would be no problem because it could divert any USC funding from Westminster to other broadband or even non-broadband projects within Wales. At least £2m of further broadband funding may become available for Wales, with the west of the country most likely to benefit, the spokesman added.
Through the Welsh government's so-called RIBS (Regional Innovative Broadband Support) scheme, public funding has already been used to DSL-enable several dozen telephone exchanges, benefitting 8,500 Welsh homes. The latest funding will be directed less towards upgrading exchanges and more towards connecting homes and businesses too far away from an exchange to receive a broadband service.