'We Need to Know Why Wales Is So Slow to Take Broadband' Country Is Falling Behind Rest of UK, Warns Tech Firm Boss

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Byline: Sion Barry Business Editor

A GREATER understanding of why many small businesses and consumers in Wales are shunning the use of broadband services is needed, according to an Ofcom advisory committee member in Wales.

Simon Gibson, who recently stood down as a member of the regulator's UK consumer panel where he represented Wales, said that the biggest issues in terms of broadband usage were now on the demand as opposed to the supply side.

More than 90% of the UK now has access to broadband services.

However, after a period of rapid expansion in Wales, latest research published by Ofcom shows that between 2007 and 2008 the number of households subscribing to broadband services rose by only 3% to reach 45% of households.

However, for the UK as whole it rose by 12% to reach 57%. The Welsh figure was the lowest of all four nations of the UK, behind Northern Ireland at 52%, Scotland at 53% and England at 58%.

In the South Wales Valleys household take-up is as low as 34%.

Essex-born Gibson said: "For Wales the big issue is why people have stopped taking it up, as it has slowed right up. People have been up-sold services, but many have not taken up any services, either because they cannot afford it or see it as an irrelevance."

The chief executive of technology investment fund Wesley Clover said there were clear educational issues linked to broadband take-up.

He said: "There is a question as to whether children in education who don't have access to broadband are disadvantaged against those who do."

Mr Gibson said it was also vital to understand why many SMEs in Wales - the vast majority of which employ 10 or less - were not using broadband as a commercial tool.

He added: "There are fantastic thriving SMEs in Wales that use the internet as a sales channel. But there are many that don't, or have not even thought about doing so.

We need to understand more as to why they are not."

In his Digital Britain report former Ofcom chair and now Communications, Technology and Broadcasting Minister Lord Carter said a universal service obligation of two megabit per second broadband for the whole country should be an initial target. …