NI Broadband Infrastructure Boosted

The 'Next Generation Broadband Project' has completed on time and on budget, Stormont Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has announced.

Over £52m has been invested in the telecommunications infrastructure as part of the project, which involved the introduction of new technology to increase broadband speeds, primarily for businesses users, across Northern Ireland.

The Minister said: "The initial construction phase of this project to develop Northern Ireland's telecommunications infrastructure completed on time and on budget and Next Generation Broadband Services are available."

Over the past 18 months, the Next Generation Broadband Project has seen BT invest close to £30m in this initiative, with a further £16.5m coming from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI) and the EU under the ERDF Competitiveness Programme of which £10.5m was invested in rural areas and £6million in urban areas.

Also £1.5m has been invested from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) under the EU ERADF Rural Development Programme. This has attracted a further investment from [other Govt departments] DARD, DETI and BT totalling some £4m.

Arlene Foster added: "This is a tremendous asset for Northern Ireland. Broadband is an enabler. Use of these new services will help local businesses increase their productivity, improving the competitiveness of the economy as a whole.

"It is now essential that our businesses take advantage of the exciting new opportunities this project creates so all of Northern Ireland can reap these benefits.

"The Next Generation Broadband Project was designed to deliver on the key Programme for Government objective to ensure 85% of businesses in Northern Ireland would have access to next generation broadband speeds by 2011 and this has been achieved. In fact this project has stimulated a further £2m by the Executive and encouraged BT to make further substantial investments in Northern Ireland."
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The contract with BT involved the deployment of fibre optic cable deeper into Northern Ireland's urban districts, towns, villages and countryside. Equipment was upgraded across 166 exchanges and new technology was introduced to increase broadband speeds to businesses.

The Minister said: "Significant investment has been made in pushing fibre optic technology deep into rural areas across Northern Ireland. There are few, if any, parts of the British Isles, which have anywhere near, the amount of fibre deployed in Northern Ireland and particularly to our rural areas.

"As well as providing better speeds for our businesses, benefits are spilling over for residential users as well and the early take up figures show our society is ready to embrace new technology.

"I recognise there are still some areas that require attention, but this project leaves a legacy which allows us to build on in the future. In the meantime, my Department has ensured that everyone can get a basic broadband service and is working with the UK to ensure services are improved as widely as possible with the resources we have."

Also commenting, Graham Sutherland, Chief Executive Officer, BT Northern Ireland, said: "Fibre-based broadband is being rolled out at pace across Northern Ireland, and by March 2012, at least 89% of all phone lines will be connected to a fibre-enabled street cabinet. This is exceptional progress, propelling Northern Ireland ahead of major European countries, and providing more and more consumers and businesses in rural and urban areas with access to high speed broadband services.

"The pioneering and highly innovative Next Generation Broadband Project by the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI) is a key chapter in this fibre broadband story. BT is proud to have played a key role in this landmark initiative, both in terms of investment and successful delivery, and are impressed by the strong demand and positive testimonials we have seen to date."


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