6 December 2001



Q7 Alison Halford:

What discussions has the Minister had with Unilever over the high cost of connecting to its main internet node? (OAQ14482)
Andrew Davies: As far as I am aware, the Assembly Government has had no direct discussions with Unilever on this matter, either in connection with its offices in London or the European arm of the Unilever Global Infrastructures Organisaton in Ewloe. Regulating the cost of internet connections is a non-devolved matter, and is currently carried out by the Office of Telecommunications. As there has not been much contact with us on this issue, if Alison brings her concerns to the attention of my colleagues and myself, we will consider what representations the Assembly Government might make to the UK Government.
Alison Halford: I appreciate that this issue does not come under your direct authority. Do you wish to investigate this matter further, bearing in mind that there is apparent regional discrimination and also the high costs amounting to over £300,000 for Unilever to connect its node? Do you agree that such an ongoing situation will undoubtedly put off major inward investment from companies that use the internet, which are the companies that we need to encourage? Although it is not a devolved responsibility, do you have a view as to how we can regularise this?

Andrew Davies:

Since you asked the question, officials have started to investigate the situation and how we can help the company and others with any problems. However, we must bear in mind that the large discrepancy between internet service costs in north Wales and London directly reflects differences in the level of competition. It is cheaper in London because there is intense competition. Because there is little competition in north Wales, the costs are higher. The Assembly Government is concerned that a situation may arise where these additional costs are seen as a barrier to companies considering moving to Wales. We will make representations on this to the UK Government and Oftel. However, because of the weakness of the private sector market in Wales, the public sector, with the Assembly taking the lead, must step into the breach to make up for the deficiency. As I said earlier, that is why our recent announcement of £18.4 million investment in the lifelong learning network in Wales is a major step to help to remedy the deficiency in the market

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