Rural Broadband Improvement Project Extended

An additional 8,500 rural premises are set to benefit from improved broadband with an extension of Project Stratum, Minister for the Economy Gordon Lyons has announced.

The Minister said: "This marks the culmination of an extensive process that confirms additional funding allocations for this transformational project by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, along with vital contributions from my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. Total additional public funding of £32million will be utilised to extend gigabit capable broadband coverage to reach an additional 8,500 homes and businesses in predominantly rural areas of Northern Ireland. The additional premises include 2,500 harder-to-reach properties that were out of scope of the original contract, plus a further 6,000 premises."

The £165million contract for delivery of Project Stratum was awarded to Fibrus Networks Ltd in November 2020. By the end of 2021, Fibrus had delivered new infrastructure to more than 22,000 premises.

The Minister added: "Drawing on the same best practices acknowledged in the recent NIAO Report on Project Stratum procurement and contract management, the Department has recognised a need to bring into the scope of the contract the additional 8.5k eligible premises that are now set to benefit from this much-needed public intervention. Funded under the DUP/Conservative Confidence and Supply deal, Project Stratum represents the largest ever public investment in telecommunications infrastructure in Northern Ireland, and the project aims to close a broadband connectivity gap that exists here compared with other parts of the UK. This is despite many parts of Northern Ireland, mostly in and around our urban centres, having access to the highest levels of gigabit-capable broadband in the UK. But in rural areas it is a different story, where a third of premises cannot access superfast speeds of 30 Mbps or above, and so delivery of gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure to these premises will be revolutionary in terms of the new opportunities a truly connected Northern Ireland will bring to our citizens."
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Welcoming the extension of the project, Minister of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots, added: "This additional investment by my Department and others in Project Stratum to extend rural broadband is a clear indication that we remain committed to ensuring that our rural communities benefit from public intervention where it is needed most. We have all seen during the pandemic how important good broadband is and are becoming ever-more reliant on our broadband services.

"The lack of access to high-speed connectivity is especially felt across our rural communities. I am delighted that additional public funding has been secured to deliver gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure to more homes in predominantly rural areas with this significant contribution from DAERA. This will help transform rural broadband and create the opportunities for many people to have broadband speeds as fast as it is in cities."

UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez added: "The government is delivering on our plan to level up Northern Ireland with better broadband. Thanks to our £150million investment in Project Stratum and measures to bust barriers to commercial roll-out, four in five premises have access to the fastest available gigabit connections which will improve lives, boost the economy and sustain the digital and tech economy for decades to come.

"We know there are still people in hard-to-reach areas on slower speeds, so we're adding a further £22million to Project Stratum, bringing thousands more rural premises in line for a lightning-fast upgrade."

The roll-out of the new full fibre network to reach all 85,000 premises, including the additional 8.500 premises being brought into scope, will continue across four extended quarters of network build, with Fibrus Networks expected to complete full deployment by March 2025.

Fibrus Networks Ltd Chief Operations Officer Conor Harrison said: "We are very proud to be involved in Project Stratum, as it is transforming people’s lives every day. The additional funding allows more of the most remote properties to get access to a service that every household needs to stay connected in a modern society.

"What we are delivering is the most important infrastructure project of a generation, and at Fibrus we thrive on the impact it is having on rural people, families, and local businesses. By the end of 2025 our hope is that every property has access to proper fibre infrastructure, and we intend to play our part in making this a reality."

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