§ Mr. Wigley
To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what grant support is available to encourage the development of fibre-optic cabling of towns and villages in Wales; what proportion of Wales now has fibre-optic cable links already established of a standard adequate for the foreseeable needs of the super-highway technological revolution; and what take-up there has been to date of grant support for the further development of this network.
§ Mr. Redwood
Cabling is one of my priorities for Wales. I have been pressing for swifter action on licences. Local delivery franchises have already been awarded for areas covering West Glamorgan, Cardiff and Newport. An announcement about a franchise operator for most of the remainder of mid, south and west Glamorgan and Gwent is expected in the summer. This should be followed by the offer of a franchise for an area of north Wales. My Department does not hold full details of the miles of fibre optic cable in existing networks, but this is known to be significant.
I have been told by cable companies that radio links may provide high quality access to less densely populated areas. They are also looking at ways of making greater use of existing pylons and telegraph poles. The development of these alternative technologies will, I hope, ensure that the whole of Wales can be linked to the super-highway.
I will provide grant support for this work in remote areas, if it is needed, through the strategic development scheme and other existing grant schemes. I am looking closely at the powers at my disposal. I am told by those interested that grant availability is not the crucial issue. For remoter areas, technology holds the key.