21 June 2001

Q4 Alison Halford:

What plans does the Minister have to increase the use of e-mail and web facilities by small and medium sized enterprises in north Wales? (OAQ12020)

Andrew Davies:

A large range of projects and programmes are underway and further planned to help encourage small and medium sized enterprises to increase their use of information communications technology. Some of these are large scale and run on an all-Wales basis, such as Wales SMe-Business. Some are available in the Objective 1 area, such as the Opportunities Wales, which was formally known as the Better Business Wales project. Many other valuable projects are run on a more local but long-term basis, such as the Business Connect ICT support centres, which I visited recently in Bangor and north-west Wales. Details of all these schemes can be obtained from Business Connect. Raising awareness of the potential benefits of ICT is also vital in helping businesses to become more competitive. The Assembly Cabinet and myself are wholly committed to that.

Alison Halford:

What progress has been made on encouraging broadband technology and establishing a supportive commercial gateway for e-business to tackle the 73 per cent of Welsh businesses that have no plans to invest in e-commerce yet?

Andrew Davies:

I am committed to bringing the benefits of broadband technology to the whole of Wales. We have already taken a number of important steps in driving this agenda forward. These include supporting projects, such as the strand 6 of the Llwybr/Pathway project, which brings asymmetric digital subscriber line availability to 10 rural towns in Wales. Last year, I launched the MARAN—multi-agency rural area network—project, which is again part of the Llwybr/Pathway project, which brings broadband access to much of mid-Wales. My Cabinet colleagues and I frequently meet companies such as British Telecom and ntl: to encourage them to rollout our broadband services in Wales. That has resulted in the provision of ADSL and cable modem services in some urban areas of Wales. Nevertheless, we realise that some areas of Wales still remain unserved. The Deputy First Minister and Minister for Economic Development and myself will carefully consider the recommendations of the report commissioned by the Welsh Development Agency, of the company analysis, on the policy actions needed to facilitate further broadband rollout in Wales. Affordable broadband availability will also be a key feature of the Assembly’s information age strategic framework, which I will present to Plenary on 3 July.

Janet Ryder:

What measures are being taken to allow SMEs to access the fibre-optic link that runs along the A55 in north Wales?

Andrew Davies:

I thought that Gareth might have asked that as a supplementary. As Members will know, the Assembly owns the fibre-optic cabling on the A55, as well as the M4, which is being used to operate its transport surveillance systems. There is spare capacity in this fibre-optic cable and the Assembly recently placed an advert in the Official Journal of the European Communities seeking expressions of interest from companies willing to work in partnership to expand, exploit and make better use of the Assembly’s broadband infrastructure along the A55. Thirteen expressions of interest were received by the closing date. A target implementation date for the project is 1 January 2002, although decisions have not yet been taken on how best to use the Assembly’s fibre-optic cabling on the M4.

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