Economy Department Exploring Broadband Improvements In NI

The Department for the Economy (DfE) is exploring the possibility of progressing work to improve Northern Ireland's broadband speeds without a minister.

A consultation is currently open to find out which areas of NI operate with the slowest broadband speeds.

Suppliers and members of the public are being urged to correctly identify all postcodes that contain premises currently unable to access 30 megabits per second (Mbps) broadband services.

The work is due to be funded by £150m from the DUP and Conservative's confidence and supply deal.

The DfE is considering wether or not the projected timescale for the work can also change.

In October 2018, Secretary of State Karen Bradley introduced the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill which gave civil servants greater flexibility in decision making.

It came after a court ruling that the Department for Infrastructure's permanent secretary acted in excess of his legal power when approving plans to build an incinerator plant in County Antrim.

The ruling was followed by doubt surrounding what decisions civil servants are allowed to take in the absence of a Northern Ireland assembly, which has been in a political stalemate since January 2017.
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The confidence and supply deal said the UK government would "contribute £75m per year for two years to help provide ultra-fast broadband for Northern Ireland".

Previous research carried out by Ofcom showed that around 40,000 premises still can't avail of the broadband speeds required by the typical user.

The consultation on current available speeds will close on Monday 14 January at 12 noon. People are asked to check the lists published online at NI Direct or visit their local council offices where hard copies available.

Permanent secretary of the DfE, Noel Lavery, said: "I would encourage people to review these lists to ensure that we have identified those postcodes where broadband services of at least 30 Mbps are not available. If you believe the information relating to your postcode is incorrect then please contact us soon as possible.

"This is an important and necessary step in preparing the ground work that could see an investment of up to £200million of public money in telecoms infrastructure in Northern Ireland, primarily in rural areas.

"There has been significant investment in telecoms infrastructure across Northern Ireland, but there are still areas, particularly rural, where difficulties remain. This exercise aims to identify those areas so that we can ensure funding is targeted appropriately."


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