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Hints of a Bidder Shortlist for £165m N.Ireland Broadband Project

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 (2:26 pm) - Score 2,001
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BT (Openreach), ISP Fibrus and private investment firm Granahan McCourt Capital (GMC) have all reportedly been linked with bids for Northern Ireland’s £165m Project Stratum, which aims to ensure that most of the 98,000 premises still awaiting access to “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) can get it.

At present a respectable 25% of premises in Northern Ireland (Ofcom’s May 2019 data) can already access a gigabit-capable “full fibre” network (up from 16% in January 2019) – the highest coverage of any devolved region within the UK – but most of that is as a result of private investment from Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media. Meanwhile just 90% have access to speeds of 30Mbps+, which is the lowest coverage of any devolved region.

NOTE: Superfast broadband coverage is 95% in England, 93% in Scotland and 93% in Wales (Ofcom).

The procurement process for suppliers began in July 2019 (here) and any future contracts under Project Stratum are widely expected to focus on fostering more full fibre (FTTP) deployments for predominantly rural communities, which would be in keeping with current UK Government policy.

We had been expecting an update on this project in time for the end of summer but sadly one never arrived. Nevertheless a new report in the Irish Times has named Granahan McCourt as one of the alleged “lead bidders” in the process, which is also believed to include BT and relative newcomer Fibrus.

A Spokesperson for N.I’s Department of the Economy said:

“The contracting authority is not in a position to provide a list of the shortlisted companies at this stage as we are currently mid-procurement and still in a tender process for Project Stratum. All information is commercially sensitive until the procurement process is complete and the contract is awarded to a successful contractor.”

At this point nobody will be surprised to see BT on the list, while the inclusion of Fibrus makes sense given their strong backing and plan to invest £100m+ over the next 5 years on a local FTTP build. By comparison Granahan McCourt is an unfamiliar name, although they’re the Irish Government’s preferred bidder for Ireland’s €3bn National Broadband Plan (NBP) and so should be taken seriously.

Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy (DfE) now expects to announce a contract award sometime during Spring 2020. We should remind readers that the majority of funding for this project stems from a 2017 deal between the Conservative UK government and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to secure the support of their MPs, which included a commitment of £150m to “help provide ultra-fast broadband” across N.I.

Leave a Comment
11 Responses
  1. Avatar Philip Cooper says:

    I live in the Omagh area of N.I. which is one of the fibre first towns and is currently “in build” although I see no sign of it, so between that and this announcement hopefully we`ll get full fibre one way or another but I wont hold my breath.

  2. Avatar Ryan Arbuckle says:

    I live in Londonderry, half the town is hooked up waiting on my street, all round me is done, but they are supplied by poles mine is underground. But i’m on Virgin 350Mb for £32 a month – so unless BT drop prices ill be staying for now

    1. Avatar Ryan Arbuckle says:

      *Half the town is BT FTTP i mean

    2. Avatar Scott Galbraith says:

      Ryan, with Virgin Media you do not have Ultrafast broadband as it is not fibre that is installed to your home. With the New BT/Openreach rollout it will be fibre direct to your home which will make a massive difference to your internet speed.

      VM installed co-ax cable in Derry only

  3. Avatar Rural Discrimination says:

    By the way, this indicates that the DfE will use the money will be used for the most disadvantaged areas in broadband coverage. This is NOT the case, the DfE have advised local council members in Fermanagh & South Tyrone (constituency 650 out of 650 in UK superfast league tables) that Project Stratum areas are determined by the department’s value for money approach, which goes against what was initially promised.

    1. Avatar SuperFast Dream says:

      @Rural Discrimination, you are absolutely correct.

      It looks like Project Stratum may have been turned on its head with regard to the proposed target market that was initially considered under the project. I read an article online somewhere about this as it will directly impact me too (being rural, currently missed by everything and not in a hard to reach area in Mid Ulster – South) and I wasn’t a happy bunny. I will see if I can locate it.

    2. Avatar SuperFast Dream says:

      Here it is: https://www.impartialreporter.com/news/17907409.broadband-goalposts-moved-say-councillors/, potentially not good for the initially intended target area’s…..

    3. Avatar Matt says:

      Will be really disappointed if Fermanagh does not get a big boost from this. I know of a lot of areas with FTTC in Fermanagh but speeds are still well under 25Mb. Likewise still has places even basic copper BB is not an option for people. I know of a town and in the space of less than half the length of the main street it goes FTTP, FTTC, Copper only.

    4. Avatar NGA for all says:

      This will be disappointing as it was the Border county councillors (all parties) which chased this down, through DfE who had little interest in 2016, then EFRA (2017 (M.Ritchie/D.Simpson) and then into the election agreement.

      Northern Ireland Audit report is still outstanding on BT’s contributions to match the £80m of subsidies received to date.

      If we extract greater Belfast not-spots the total number drops to c75k premises so the problem is infinitely addressable. Expect to see the example of a single customer costing more than £500k, which is bit like the argument that FTTP was held up because we collapsed the ducts to stop the mice and rats using them.

      I guess their will now have to be stratum II.

    5. Avatar Andrew says:

      I live between Donemana and Claudy just inside Co. Tyrone. We are rural but I wouldn’t say particularly remote as we are on the B49 and there area approx. 10 properties within a 500m radius. Our fibre enabled cabinet is just over 5km away so we get a very unstable 1Mb cabled broadband connection and to make things worse no real 4G coverage at the property. I’ve been waiting on the Project Stratum OMR report to see if we will be covered in the proposed intervention area, but that talk of ‘moving goalposts’ is very worrying!!!

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