Broadband:  Rural Areas

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 17th February 2014.

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Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 3:00 pm, 17th February 2014

4. asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for an update on the measures being undertaken to improve broadband coverage in rural areas. (AQO 5559/11-15)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

In recent years, my Department has invested significantly to facilitate the extension of broadband networks, making use of numerous technologies including fixed-line, radio and satellite.  On 7 February 2014, I announced further investment of some £23·5 million from government and BT to improve broadband choice and speed to over 45,000 premises across Northern Ireland.  That work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.  I will continue to work to extend broadband services, where it is feasible and cost-effective to do so.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I thank the Minister for her reply.  What criteria will BT use to determine where investment, if any, is placed?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

We are working again with BT, which has proven itself to be a good partner in the past.  The improvements that will take place are based on engineering criteria and what represents the best value for money.  Of course, most of the money is public money, so we will want to make sure that our intervention represents good value for money.

Photo of Cathal Boylan Cathal Boylan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a freagraí.  That is welcome news.  When does the Minister foresee the money first being rolled out?  Will she give an assurance that she will look at and address the fact that there are those who will not able to use line-based technology?  However, this is a good-news story.

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I thank the Member for his acknowledgement that it is a good-news story.  I know that we have been waiting on investment for some time now.  Indeed, he is one of the Members who keeps asking me when it will be available.  We are pleased that the tender has now been agreed with BT.  It will look at the many postcodes that have been submitted to the Department to see what engineering solutions are available in those areas and whether they represent good value for money.

We are looking forward to the roll-out of the mobile infrastructure project for mobile phones.  You might ask why I am mentioning that in the context of broadband, but the reason is that we know that many people use their mobile devices to access broadband.  We are looking at the issue in the round and trying to make sure that people who cannot access fixed-line broadband can do so through another technology.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Will the Minister outline how much of the £230 million from the UK Government her Department will receive and where it will be spent?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

The £23·5 million that we are rolling out in Northern Ireland is a mixture of money from my Department, the European Union, the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), BT and DARD.  So, there are five parts to the scheme.  I think that we received in the region of £6 million, although I stand to be corrected on that.  I am going from memory, Mr McCallister, so forgive me if that figure is wrong.  However, I think that it is £6 million from DCMS for this particular pot of money.  We will receive more money for the mobile infrastructure project, as I indicated.  However, for this particular scheme, I think that it is £6 million.