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Northern Ireland Council Calls on Banks to Help Improve Broadband

Friday, April 6th, 2018 (4:40 pm) - Score 572

The Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has written to First Trust Bank, Ulster Bank and Danske Bank in the hope of encouraging them to help invest in improvements to local broadband connectivity. Recently online banking has become much more important due to the closure of local branches.

People who live in rural areas will no doubt be all too familiar with the issue of vanishing banks, post offices and so forth. Many such closures often end up being targeted for areas where the availability of “superfast broadband” is similarly considered to be weak or even non-existent, which is a tricky problem because the very use of internet banking is what has also helped to make traditional branches less sustainable (i.e. a lot of what we all once did in-branch can now be done online).

As the council’s letter states (Impartial Reporter): “There is a real need for improvements to broadband coverage in the rural areas and members believe that given the pursuance of banks’ to promote increased online banking, the institutions could possibly assist with this matter.” Naturally the banks have a different interpretation and state that broadband is a matter for the government.

Ian Jordan, Non-Executive Chairman of the N.I Committee of UK Finance, said:

“But, technology is not for everyone, which is why all the major banks have partnered with the Post Office to help consumers and businesses do basic banking at over 11,000 Post Office branches across the UK, many of which are open outside of normal branch banking hours.

I can assure you that we are fully cognisant of the issue which you raise and that our initiative with The Post Office is designed to address the needs.”

Technically speaking it could perhaps be argued that some banks are already lending significant chunks of money to broadband operators (in the same way as they do for any other commercial businesses), as well as various related investment funds, and are thus already investing in the betterment of national broadband connectivity. Admittedly this isn’t quite the same as handing a big chunk of cash to local authorities.

The other counter argument here is that you don’t strictly need a superfast connection in order to conduct online banking (banking sites should work fine with 1-2Mbps). Plus a far bigger concern is likely to come from elderly and certain disabled users, many of which prefer to talk with a human than fiddle with unfamiliar internet connectivity (the issue of better broadband for them may be a moot point).

Actually most of us like the option of talking with a human, not only pensioners, although increasingly to get this from your bank means having to travel a fair bit further (e.g. into a larger town). Whether or not we should be expecting banks to cover at least some of the costs for new core infrastructure is at the very least an interesting debate, albeit probably not one that’s likely to make much practical headway.

Meanwhile the £1.6bn+ Broadband Delivery UK programme predicts that the coverage of fixed superfast broadband (24Mbps+) networks, which currently sits at an estimated 95%+ of UK premises, could reach 98% by 2020 and there’s a future 10Mbps+ USO for tackling the final 2% (enforced from 2020).

However, Northern Ireland’s national coverage of 24Mbps+ capable connectivity is currently closer to 86-88%, which places it well below Scotland, Wales and England. In the meantime a good place to start might be for the government of Northern Ireland to resolve its political differences and get on with the job of actually governing (easier said than done).

Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Avatar Ultrafast Dream says:

    It could be argued that the banks lending companies money to improve Broadband infrastructure are realistically doing nothing of the sort, in fact they will likely be benefiting financially by providing the loans in the form of applied interest charges on the money they lend. I can see the councils argument but I have never known a bank to lend/give money to any organisation without some self benefit from it, that’s what banks are for after all.

    I do feel for my Fermanagh and Omagh neighbours they seem to be in the same boat as us in Mid Ulster where Superfast Broadband availability is patchy at best, 70.3% coverage I believe in Mid Ulster. The argument seems to be that the remainder of us are in ‘hard to reach areas’. Well I live on a main road where hundreds of cars, trucks, lorries, tractors and buses pass every day and I am close to a town that is Fibre enabled and has been for some years and can confirm that our line goes direct to a Fibre enabled cabinet, not across fields. Unfortunately we sit at just over a mile and a half directly from that cabinet so a little too far for Fibre, unless we want 2Mbps, hard to reach, not quite BT, next excuse?

    1. Avatar Gadget says:

      No excuses, simply laws of physics and engineering determine the speed by technology by distance from technology and the laws of commerce to ensure that whoever provides your service has a viable business model.

    2. Avatar Rich says:

      Next excuse: Ofcom’s obsession with artificial pseudo-competition is what stops them turning off ADSL2 at the exchange and deploying it from the cabinet, and using ADSL frequencies for VDSL.

      You would probably get 15mbit from this at 1.5 miles, but it’s not allowed because then LLU would be pointless and Sky/Talktalk etc would whine.

    3. Avatar Mike says:

      What about 4G?

    4. Avatar Ultrafast Dream says:

      4G would be a definite option if it wasn’t for poor data caps and tethering limits, which is a shame as I currently get consistent tests of between 60 ~ 70Mbps, handy for use in an emergency (when the kids are going crazy and fighting over our poor ADSL connection). Unfortunately Fixed Wireless offerings are also patchy, poor or non-existent in the area. Doesn’t leave anything else at the moment. If they could just loosen the limits on 4G I would jump at a heartbeat, I already have the necessary kit to do so.

    5. Avatar Ultrafast Dream says:

      @Gadget, and there is the problem, between us and that cabinet is about 20 houses, 50% would be able to avail of fibre down to about 20Mbps and then there is about a quarter of a mile or so gap to the next DP of two. Therefore ‘not business viable’ for BT to undertake the task of upgrading the remaining 50%, despite the pot of public funding they have available to them. So its not that we’re hard to reach it just that we’re not business viable, but that statement would never be made!

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