Oct 10 2006
David Williamson, Western Mail
MONMOUTHSHIRE is fast becoming Wales' answer to Silicon Valley, with one of the highest levels of high-speed internet usage in the United Kingdom.
The mainly rural county is ranked six in the country by BT, with more than 18,000 homes and businesses now using ADSL broadband.
When all other forms of internet access are also taken into account, Assembly Government figures show that Cardiff is no longer the broadband capital of Wales. Newport leads with 51% of its residents now subscribed to a broadband service.
The Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff follow closely on 50%.
Nationwide, broadband take-up continues to climb, with 43% of Wales now subscribed to a broadband service - up from 39% in 2005.
The research, conducted by the Assembly's Broadband Wales programme, shows that Anglesey is the most improved county, with broadband take-up in the area increasing 38% in the last year from 29% to 40%. The next biggest increase was in Powys (up 30% to 39%), and Wrexham (up 27% to 42%).
As well as being better connected, the research also shows that Wales is getting faster, with 26% of those surveyed having connection speeds faster that 1Mb, which will allow users to run advanced applications such as videoconferencing, gaming and music downloads.
Although the PC remains the most popular method of connecting to the internet, there has been an increase in the number of people accessing on their mobile phones - almost 20% of respondents.
The telephone line is still the most common way of connecting to the internet, although there has been growth in use of both cable and wireless technology.
The impact of the Regional Innovative Broadband Support Programme (RIBS), which involves internet-enabling the final 35 exchanges in Wales, is not reflected in the research, which was completed before its launch.
Andrew Davies, Minister for Enterprise, Innovation and Networks, said, "The positive results of this latest wave of research are a testament to more than four years of hard work by our Broadband Wales Programme to raise community awareness and understanding of broadband.
"While I am pleased that broadband take-up is continuing to climb, we have to build on the success of the programme to ensure take-up continues to improve across all parts of the country."
The research involved surveying 5,500 residents across Wales' 22 local authorities.
It contrasts with data based on a much smaller sample released in August by the Office for National Statistics.
This found that 40% of the UK had broadband access (up from 28% last year) but said Wales had the second-lowest broadband take-up rate in the UK at just 32%.
This research said London had the top rate, with 49% of households connected to broadband.
BT's analysis is based on its wholesale sales to homes and businesses of ADSL internet access. It found the highest penetration was in Buckinghamshire (47%) and Aberdeenshire (44%).
Commenting on the popularity of high-speed access in Monmouthshire, Ann Beynon, BT's director for Wales, said the challenge was now to encourage greater use among the population as a whole.
"This is excellent news," she said.
"But Monmouthshire's success mirrors that of Wales as a whole which is one of the fastest growing parts of the UK in terms of broadband take-up with increasing numbers of homes and businesses realising the benefits the technology can bring.
"With more and more people using broadband's new and exciting services online, the challenge is now to continue to develop increasingly compelling content to encourage even greater growth."
Photographer Steve Pope, a broadband user from Caldicot, said the technology had made a huge difference to his business.
"Once you start using broadband you wonder how you ever managed without it," he said.
"So when I moved to the area, ADSL broadband was one of the first things I ordered.
"Since photography has gone digital, clients want their pictures the same day - and because you are dealing with such large files, without broadband it would be totally impractical."