A councillor says improving digital connectivity in rural areas would be “a lifeline for communities” isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The warning came during a discussion surrounding a report on digital exclusion at this week’s Conwy and Denbighshire public service board.

It highlighted how rural areas in North Wales still had large “white spots” of poor online connectivity.

Denbighshire council officer Nicola Kneale presented the study to members representing Denbighshire and Conwy council, Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board, North Wales Police, Natural Resources Wales and the voluntary sector.

She said Openreach, which has pledged to connect rural areas, tended to “focus on areas of the county we would consider urban” and compared parts of Conwy and Denbighshire with “areas like Manchester”.

Openreach is a division of BT which manages the infrastructure for nearly all of the country’s digital connectivity.

Conwy county council’s deputy Leader, Cllr Goronwy Edwards, is a farmer from Henryd in the Conwy Valley and he outlined his struggle to get full-fibre broadband for his business.

He said: “Since Covid the importance of good connectivity has become really apparent. I have finally managed to get full fibre at my property after five years.

“We need to get a dialogue with BT Openreach. My dealings with them over the last five years have been fragmented.

“It would be good to open up a dialogue so they can understand the issues in rural Conwy and Denbighshire.

“There are opportunities to work together rather than the mish-mash we have now. If we can improve our connectivity it would be a lifeline for our rural communities.

“So many businesses need that connectivity. If we are to have a business bounce-back after Covid, we need to give our businesses the opportunity.”

Ms Kneale said an officer in Denbighshire was advising digital poor communities how to access a Rural Gigabit Voucher Scheme which, between Welsh and UK Governments was worth £3,000 per qualifying household and £7,000 for businesses.

The money is then used to install full-fibre broadband but the report showed how one small community had been quoted £1.5m to get connected.

In Conwy the council is looking to appoint a digital officer and was accessing a digital innovation Rural Community Development fund.

That approach would see them pay for infrastructure to be get full-fibre relays into existing rural community buildings, which would encourage Openreach to hook up nearby residential and business properties to the network.

The report showed how many parts of Conwy and Denbighshire had “white spots” where connectivity was “officially” lower than 30Mbs (megabits per second).

The report added: “In truth nearly all of them have less than 5Mbs, some less than 0.5Mbs.”

“BT OpenReach has a plan for rolling out full fibre connections across some

parts of Conwy and Denbighshire.

“We don’t know when the next phase of the roll-out plan will start, but it’s scheduled to be complete by June 2022, though some slippage should be expected.

“This roll-out scheme will still leave many properties without access to fibre broadband.”

A spokesman for Openreach said the company was proud of the work it has done to build a “fibre broadband network across all parts of Wales”.

However it had “always been clear” that some of the very hardest parts of Wales would not be “commercially viable” and will need government support.

He said: “More than 95% of Wales can access fast reliable broadband today. But we know there is more to do to connect the most rural of areas.

“Our popular Community Fibre Partnership Schemes and on-going work with the Welsh Government demonstrates our commitment to connect the hardest to reach premises in Wales.

“Nobody is doing more than Openreach to bring ultrafast fibre broadband  across both urban and rural Wales.”