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£165m N.Ireland Broadband Project to Target 97000 Premises

Monday, December 16th, 2019 (3:16 pm) - Score 1,635
northern ireland map uk simplified

The Department for the Economy has issued a small update on their long-in-gestation £165m Project Stratum scheme, which after two consultations has finally confirmed that some 97,000 premises are eligible to be upgraded with a “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) network under their future roll-out programme.

The figure of 97,000 is only slightly different (-1,000) from the original intervention area forecast of 98,000 and so doesn’t represent a big development. At present Ofcom estimates (May 2019 data) that 95% of N.Ireland can access a 10Mbps (USO) capable broadband network, which falls to 90% for speeds of 30Mbps+, 48% for ultrafast speeds (300Mbps+) and 25% for Gigabit-capable “full fibre” (FTTP) infrastructure.

In fairness Northern Ireland does have the highest full fibre coverage of any devolved region within the United Kingdom, although most of that is as a direct result of private investment from Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media (plus a little from smaller players like Fibrus). Indeed this may well be given a boost by Project Stratum, which has previously talked about focusing upon FTTP in predominantly rural communities.

Unfortunately what we don’t get today is news of a preferred bidder being chosen. The procurement process itself only began in July 2019 (here) and so it’s probably a bit too soon for that, with potential bidders likely to include BT, Fibrus and Granahan McCourt (here).

NOTE: Granahan McCourt is an unfamiliar name in the UK, but they’re the Irish Government’s preferred bidder for Ireland’s €3bn National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Take note that it’s not unusual for large procurements like this to take a year or more to run their course and indeed an outcome is currently expected for “mid-2020,” which we can’t help but point out is a little bit less specific than the “spring 2020” window given at the last update.

Mike Brennan, Permanent Secretary at the Department, said:

“This announcement represents a positive step forward, with 97,000 premises eligible for potential intervention in rural areas. This significant investment seeks to ensure Next Generation Access broadband services can be accessed by as many premises as possible across Northern Ireland. While the final number and location of premises to benefit from the project will not be known until the procurement is complete and a contract has been awarded, Project Stratum enables us to build on broadband connectivity achievements to date.

The UK Government has fully recognised that there are many rural areas across Northern Ireland where broadband access remains an issue. This was clearly demonstrated through the high number of responses to the consultation.

Within the Department we will continue to seek to maximise the industry contribution, over and above the current £165m public investment, to ensure as many premises as possible continue to benefit from the project.”

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. This funding commitment has not been affected by the outcome of the recent 2019 General Election.

Otherwise the NI Direct website has an availability checker for broadband coverage, which we think may have now been updated with the latest modelling (here).

Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar BuckleZ

    We’re spoilt here in Londonderry, FTTP and Virgin, I stick with Virgin 350/35 for £32 a month though, zero issues 😀

  2. Avatar NGA for all

    Think Broadband reported <24Mps at 85K premises for NI. At least the budget outlasts the 2017 election agreement that gave rise to it, although the impetus through the hunt to re-allocate clawback to where it was needed was started by Councillors in 2016.

  3. Avatar Philip Cooper

    I live just outside Omagh which currently undergoing Fibre First deployment, between this and Stratum you`d hope to get FTTP but I still have this nagging doubt that we will be missed somehow…..

  4. Avatar SuperFast Dream

    @Mark, you are correct, the NI Direct website seems to reflect the postcodes that were submitted under the consultation back in November 2018 through to January 2019 of this year.

    Mine now comes back as: “Your address has been identified as being in an area that needs broadband improvement. It’s therefore been added to the list that will be used to develop a project to improve services in as many areas as possible. This does not guarantee that improvements will be made to this address.” whereas up until the page went offline earlier in the year it came up as ‘nothing planned’.

    We will wait and see how things progress, time will tell……

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