Post by Lee Waters MS, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport
This is the sixth in a series of blogs outlining the ambitions and plans for our Digital Strategy for Wales. Further information can be found in the other posts in the series: introductory blog ; Mission 1 ; Mission 2 ; Mission 3 ; Mission 4.
Mission 5: Services are supported by fast and reliable infrastructure
Everywhere we turn, digital technology is driving improvements in almost every aspect of our lives. Of course, without the underlying infrastructure which connects our computers, devices and online services, there can be no digitisation.
The Covid pandemic has highlighted the need for greater connectivity speeds and broadband access, and as we continue to social distance, we are becoming more dependent on digital services for home working, e-learning, attendance at virtual GP appointments, online events and much more. Since the start of the pandemic, many more people have needed to access public services online and there has been an increased reliance on the internet for information and advice which has driven the transformation of digital services.
It is vital that we recognise and champion the positive aspects that have emerged from this crisis. Schools have rapidly adapted to online learning, health professionals to remote consultations and our collective need to travel to attend meetings has been brought into question through the efficiency of the video call. Such accelerated changes may have been driven by the necessity to adapt to a particular set of challenges, but it clear that they are here to stay due to the enormous potential that they offer. However, enabling this continued adoption of digital services relies on a solid foundation of ubiquitous, good quality digital connectivity.
It is though clear that it is not a level playing field across the whole of the country. While the vast majority of homes and businesses across Wales have access to good quality digital connectivity, there are those that continue to struggle with even the most basic of connections. Addressing such issues can be slow and expensive, particularly in rural areas where terrain is more challenging and the population more sparsely distributed. The incentives for companies to invest to reach their customers in these areas are diminished and often overshadowed by opportunities to focus on the roll out of infrastructure and service upgrades in densely populated towns and cities. There are premises in Wales that cannot access superfast broadband while elsewhere the commercial roll out of gigabit broadband is already gathering pace in places that have long enjoyed superfast coverage.
We are committed to support good quality digital connectivity but it is critical to note, that telecommunications policy and addressing such issues of digital connectivity is a matter for the UK Government. This is a reserved area that the Welsh Government is not responsible for and receives no devolved funding to address.
The recently received National Infrastructure Commission for Wales’s report on digital infrastructure in Wales, focusses on the work that we have already undertaken. The report highlights areas of priority where more focus is needed, including the review of dedicated support, both financial and practical, as well as continued engagement with UK Government, to ensure greater fixed and mobile connectivity across Wales
We are in the process of responding to the specific recommendations of the report but it is imperative that in our response we think carefully about what our role is in addressing these issues and how any action that we do take forward is funded. In the past we leveraged European Funding to drive digital connectivity transformation on an enormous scale. The landscape has since changed dramatically and we now look to the UK Government to build on our success and make the necessary investment in Wales.
One recommendation raised, the creation of a Barrier Busting taskforce, is already underway, with constructive discussion and engagement taking place between Welsh Government, Welsh local authorities, the telecom industry and UK Government. This will ensure that the most frictionless route to greater digital infrastructure deployment and connectivity is taken moving forward.
But our overall ambition remains. We want to see ubiquitous, good quality infrastructure that supports our agenda for digital service delivery. We are prepared to invest to support service delivery where there is a case for it, however, we must also focus on ensuring that the UK Government fulfils its responsibilities in Wales.
This Digital Strategy is designed to support these ambitions.
That is why our fifth Mission is to ensure that:
Services are supported by fast and reliable infrastructure.
So, what will we do?
What will be different?
Our aim is to deliver the following outcome:
- Excellent digital infrastructure including internet and mobile network connectivity that can support the needs of the whole nation.
A plan for delivery
This mission, like the others, will have a clear plan for action and we know many of these ambitions are long term. In fact, work has already started on identifying the actions that need to be undertaken if we are to achieve what we’ve laid out above. Once developed the action plans will be shared and will act as living documents with progress regularly reported on.
Getting your feedback
We’d like to hear what you think about digital connectivity in Wales, our role in addressing connectivity gaps and how we can best seize the opportunities arising from new infrastructure technologies.
- What our role should be?
- What do you think the barriers to digital connectivity might be, how they might best be overcome, how and by whom?
- Do you think there are digital connectivity gaps and, if so, what/where are they?
- If you had to prioritise, what would your top three priorities be?
Please share your comments with us by filling in the online form where you can feedback on all or some of the missions or you can leave a comment below. The online form and comments will be open until 31 January 2021.
While we will not be responding to each individual comment, rest assured we will be taking all feedback into account when developing the Digital Strategy for Wales.
Keep an eye out for the next blog on Digital Skills, coming soon.