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CBI Tells N.Ireland How to Spend £150m on Ultrafast Broadband

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018 (3:30 pm) - Score 1,088
northern ireland map uk simplified

A new report from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) chaired Northern Ireland Broadband Industry Forum (NIBIF) has set out how it thinks the UK Government’s £150m investment to help “provide ultra-fast broadband” (100Mbps+) should be spent. No big surprises inside.

At present it’s estimated that around 87% of premises in Northern Ireland can access a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) ISP network (details), while “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) connectivity is available to roughly 35% (mostly thanks to Virgin Media) and Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTP) coverage remains well below the 2% mark. Suffice to say that NI has plenty of weak spots.

Back in 2017 the Conservative UK government agreed to help tackle this by handing £75m per year (over 2 years) to fund a deployment of ultrafast connectivity, which formed part of a political deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to secure the support of their 10 MPs in parliament.

Since then we’ve heard precious little about how the investment would actually be spent (partly due to the on-going political deadlock), although BT (Openreach) has recently indicated that if they were handed all the money then it might be possible to reach another 140,000 premises by the end of 2021 (here). BT believes this could result in economic, social and environmental benefits worth £1.2bn.

Adding to this debate is the new report from the NIBIF, which is made up of members that include BT, Virgin Media, Vodafone, B4B Telecoms, Bluebox Broadband, Air Fibre and so forth. The report makes a number of recommendations, all of which seem to be quite sensible.

NIBIF’s Broadband Recommendations

* 100 Mbps should be deployed in Northern Ireland in areas receiving less than 30 Mbps.

* The networks deployed should be future proofed which means that fibre will be a large part of the solution with other hybrid technologies to support uneconomic/hard to reach communities.

* Private investment should support the funding and this should be transparent and subject to audit in the process.

* The industry believes following procurement the deployment of the £150 million will take up to 3 years.

* Consideration to be given to the as yet unawarded Broadband USO supplier(s) and the successful supplier(s) deploying funding broadband contract(s).

* Consideration to be given to other sources of funding to ensure collaboration with local authorities to maximise the £150 million investment in broadband deployment.

* A single point of contact to promote good communication and collaboration across NI.

* The skills and training shortages in the construction and telecoms industries in Northern Ireland needs to be addressed.

We should mention that NI lacks the same diversity of Alternative Network (AltNet) ISPs as found elsewhere in the United Kingdom, although we think that a flexible but competitive tender process (similar to BDUK Phase 2 perhaps) could see more providers being attracted into the local market. On this point we assume that match-funding by the private sector could potentially also double the investment pot to c.£300m.

The forum similarly appears to have agreed a number of related guidelines, such as a desire for most of the money to be spent on improving connectivity in rural areas and a focus on “full fibre” (FTTP) connectivity as the primary “future proof solution“. Support for competition and open access networks has also been stated as one of the guiding principles.

In terms of performance, the guidelines call for any solution to be Gigabit (1Gbps) capable ideally and to deliver a minimum of 100Mbps, albeit while adding that “this does not exclude offering lower speeds as part of service wrap particularly in areas where hybrid solutions will need to be deployed“.

The CEO of B4B Group, Dominic Kearns, told ISPreview.co.uk: “What was clear from the work of the industry group is that all of us are keen to see the digital divide in Northern Ireland addressed and that the £150m available provides the perfect opportunity to solve it once and for all.”

Our message to the department of the Economy is that any future procurement structure should encourage maximum market participation and attract significant private investment. Moving swiftly on this project could ensure we become one the of best connected regions in Europe.”

NIBIF’s Broadband Report
http://www.cbi.org.uk/../northern-ireland-broadband-industry-forum-report/

Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar chris conder

    Let us hope the Irish shape up and get some altnets going. Otherwise all that will happen is BT grab it all, shove in a handful of high profile fttp on their way to a phone mast and the rest will get some more coppersaurus cabinets and patchups to obsolete phone lines.
    Bring on the fibre, moral and optic, and don’t waste this chance. After saying all that it is probably too late anyway and BT will have stitched it all up.

    • Avatar NGA for all

      Cabinet installs and copper re-arrangement has been flogged to death. Full fibre reported at 58,000. Some very rural FTTP while actively avoiding business parks or anywhere you can mis-sell a private circuit.

      There is sufficient here to provision full fibre to most of the rural exchanges. State aid is £66m since 2010, less claw back and any reconciliation on BT capital.

      I am not sure if the problem is the lack of competition, or people pretending there is competition.

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