Digging for broadband: how one Welsh village declared war on slow internet.

Thursday, 28 June, 2018

In the finest wartime tradition frustrated residents of a tiny Welsh village decided to take things into their own hands and got together to dig 15 miles of trenches to lay their own superfast broadband cables.

Lying between Cardiff and Newport the village of Michaelston-y-Fedw has a population of just 300. But farmers, teachers and the retired contributed thousands of volunteer hours and stumped up £150,000 of their own money to secure a superfast connection.

The first households have already been connected and they reckon that by the end of summer 90% of village homes should be connected. Previously internet speeds had been just 4 Mbps.

Like all the best ideas this project was formed in the pub one evening. Landlord of the Cefn Mably Arms, Ben Longman said, “We were all moaning about how bad the wifi was. I had just paid for high speed broadband and realised it would not work.”

So, a community group was set-up and grants were secured from the Welsh Assembly but to keep costs down the group called on local volunteers to dig.

And like so many community projects this brought the villagers even closer together. 79-year-old villager Brinley Richards said, “It is a remarkable success story. I am so proud of the community. The village deserves recognition. Some of the people work more than 12 hours a day. I have no doubt that other parts of Wales will be asking us for advice.”

Echoing this, organiser 61-year-old Carina Dunk said, “Communities have tended to be more distant and detached but not here anymore. Sometimes we have to take a step back and pinch ourselves at what we have done.”

The lack of high speed broadband in rural areas has been a major headache for some time and while operators have committed themselves to improving the poor state of affairs they have faced widespread criticism over their priority agendas.

In January Openreach was accused of simply walking away from an unfinished roll-out of fibre broadband technology in the Welsh village of Derwen Gam.

Openreach had brought the fibre infrastructure into the middle of the village and yet it hasn’t made the final link into properties. BT has left the job unfinished. Now that the funding from the public purse has come to an end BT has walked away.

BT should not be doing that. They have promised in writing that people would linked into the superfast infrastructure.

- Elin Jones: Welsh Assembly member for Ceredigion

At present 30Mbps+ capable networks are only available in an estimated 93% of premises in Wales. This inevitably leaves a number of communities out in the cold, particularly in rural areas. While Openreach has faced many problems, not least obstructive land owners, this will be of little comfort to those left struggling with prehistoric connection speeds.

The good news has been the Welsh government’s renewed commitment to bringing 30Mbps to all Welsh properties – with £80 million now earmarked to fund the project.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.