VITAL public services including GP surgeries, libraries and hospitals are benefiting from ultrafast internet speeds and better connectivity.
The Coronavirus pandemic has not stopped major progress being made on the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and North Wales Economic Ambition Board £8m roll-out of the highest quality gigabit capable broadband to 350 sites across Denbighshire, Anglesey, Conwy, Gwynedd, Flintshire and Wrexham.
The switch from copper-based provision – as part of its Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) Programme – has seen the DCMS work in partnership with the Ambition Board since the initial bid for funding was made in 2018.
Cllr Mark Pritchard, vice-chair of the Ambition Board and leader of Wrexham council, said the scheme will complement the digital programme which forms part of the £1bn North Wales Growth Deal.
“This project is future-proofing hundreds of public sector sites in North Wales,” said Cllr Pritchard.
“They will have access to the highest quality gigabit capability and connectivity as their demands increase and grow, with organisations continuing to adopt new technologies and improve how services are delivered.
“Primary care is one of the main areas in the project, and GP surgeries in every county in this region will benefit from significantly better connectivity to support new ways of communicating with patients and hospitals.”
He added: “The Coronavirus has greatly increased the need for better digital connectivity between residents and public services, and the LFFN will put councils and health boards in a stronger, more versatile position to manage future challenges.
“There has never been a better time to make these improvements and I am delighted with the progress made so far.”
Cadwgan Surgery in Old Colwyn is an example of a site to have benefited from the LFFN.
Senior partner Dr Dylan Parry has worked at the surgery for more than 20 years and says the investment has transformed their daily lives.
“We have 12,000 patients, so trying to work digitally with such a volume of work was difficult,” said Dr Parry.
“We had issues with software, a poor browsing experience and other problems that wasted clinical and administrative time, as well as decreasing productivity and leading to frustrations with remote working.
“Following the installation of faster broadband, we saw a huge improvement – there were immediate benefits.”
Other sites to have experienced a positive impact as part of the rollout were the Caia Park Estate Office in Wrexham, the Mental Health Support Service Team at Flint Castle Park, and the Muriau building in Conwy, home of a Tourist Information Centre and gift shop and a landmark in the World Heritage Site since the 1880s.
Conwy’s Cabinet Member for Modernisation, Cllr Emma Leighton-Jones, said: “We’ve committed to a series of digital programmes aimed at enhancing services, as well as extending fast connectivity solutions to areas where it is currently not available.
“We’re grateful for the North Wales Economic Ambition Board’s support, and for the support of UK and Welsh Government in these programmes.”
LFFN is a flagship initiative from the UK Government to stimulate network operators to extend the reach of gigabit capable broadband across the country.
Minister for Digital Infrastructure at the DCMS, Matt Warman, congratulated the local authorities in North Wales for collaborating with partners to drive the scheme forward.
“From Anglesey to Wrexham, to see the local authorities working together on this project is fantastic,” he said.
“That in turn will stimulate broader take-up amongst businesses and see the public and private sectors link up in a tangible way.
“Good progress has been made and it gives us an indication of how the digital landscape in Wales is changing, and what benefits faster broadband can bring.
“We are keen to go even further in partnership with the Welsh and UK Governments to make sure we roll out gigabit connections right across the region.”
The upgrades to end sites is being undertaken by the Welsh Government’s Wales-wide Public Sector Broadband Aggregation (PSBA) contract, delivered by BT. PSBA provides connectivity services to nearly 5,000 public sector sites across Wales.
Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters said: “I’m pleased to see this development in North Wales and that the public sector is already benefiting from the improvements made.
“The PSBA contract offered an instant solution to the North Wales Economic Ambition Board by providing an existing network for the whole of the public sector in Wales to use.
“The infrastructure being installed in this project also allows some homes and businesses near a public sector building to benefit from full fibre broadband. Now more than ever we appreciate the importance of a fast, reliable broadband connection and it’s good to see this work underway in North Wales.”