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Denbighshire – Council debate who is responsible for internet connection

OPENREACH has been accused of “passing the buck” over rural internet speeds.

The accusation was made during a meeting of Denbighshire Council, during which a row broke out about who is responsible for ensuring rural communities have adequate broadband speeds.

While learning about the council’s commitment to “a better-connected Denbighshire”, members members heard how residents living in sparsely populated rural areas and even villages and towns such as Llandyrnog and Ruthin experienced poor connectivity.

It comes after a council meeting last month in which internet provider Openreach updated councillors on their progress connecting towns and villages.

There, councillors heard how a government voucher connection scheme to finance connecting rural communities had been suspended, making it expensive to connect lower-populated villages.

Consequently Openreach have been invited back to the scrutiny committee in January to give an update on their progress.

During the Denbighshire Council meeting on Tuesday, Cllr Eryl Williams asked: “Is it true that we are responsible (for connectivity) and not Openreach?

“I think it is Openreach who are responsible for putting the cables in, not us.”

Lead member for finance and performance Cllr Gwyneth Ellis said she didn’t know in her capacity, but said the report was there as a guide about how the matter should be dealt with. Cllr Williams remained unhappy.

“Openreach are passing the buck to the people out there, and this has been happening for years,” he said.

“We’ve been asking for this for eight years, BT, Openreach, whoever they were.

“They’ve been saying, ‘yes, the funding will be available’.

“People brought plans together, but Openreach, or whoever is responsible, don’t do them.

“They say you are out (in the rural area). Then in the rural areas, it’s a problem everywhere.”

But leader Cllr Jason McLellan said there was an ongoing project to improve the county’s connectivity as part of the North Wales Growth Deal, a multi-agency scheme to promote the region economically.

He said: “As part of the Growth Deal (there is) an ambitious project called the ‘Last Few Percent’, working towards having a bare minimum of super-fast broadband speeds to areas that are experiencing poor connectivity.

“So that is a big project that is going on.”

Cllr McLellan said a presentation would be delivered to councillors on the scheme.

He added: “They’re working hard to address the issue, and it is a priority for us.”

Cllr Huw Hilditch-Roberts insisted providing connectivity was the responsibility of Openreach, not the council, referencing his experience, as a former cabinet member, putting together the previous corporate plan.

He said: “It is not council’s responsibility because I’ve had this debate with the last corporate plan when we were trying to put a target in for Openreach, and I was arguing how we could we put a target in when we’re not in control of it.

“So it’s very clear the council has a relationship with Openreach, and it can lobby and work with Welsh Government, but the responsibility is not Denbighshire County Council’s.”

Martin Williams, Openreach Partnership Director for Wales, said: “Contrary to ‘passing the buck’ on rural broadband it’s actually the case that nobody is doing more than Openreach to bring ultrafast full fibre broadband to Denbighshire and the rest of Wales.

“As a business that employs around 2,300 local engineers across every part of Wales we take great pride in the fact that we’re leading the way in building ultrafast broadband across both urban and harder to reach rural parts of the country.

“Only recently we were able to announce that more than 700,000 properties across Wales can now access full fibre broadband as a result of Openreach’s £210million investment which has seen build progress at a staggering rate of nearly 4000 properties every single week.

“According to ThinkBroadband the full fibre coverage for Denbighshire now sits at nearly 72% (nearly all of which has been built by Openreach). As welcomed by Denbighshire Councillors at a recent council meeting this level of coverage is in fact much higher than the Welsh average of 48% or indeed the UK average of 51%.

“We appreciate that there is still plenty of work to do and parts of the country – including Denbighshire – still need better connectivity. While Openreach is already providing the lion’s share of the full fibre build we’ve been consistent in saying that it requires investment from both the industry and Government to help us close the digital divide even further.

“Having fast reliable broadband connectivity is imperative in this day and age so that we can all learn, shop or work online no matter where we live. We would be more than happy to show Denbighshire Council some of the work our local engineers are doing in the area so that they can better understand how our engineers – far from passing the buck – are overcoming complex engineering challenges on a daily basis to build one of the largest engineering projects in the UK.”

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