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Broadband Access: SMEs

Oral Answers to Questions — Finance and Personnel – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Seán Rogers Seán Rogers Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 13th October 2015

T3. Mr Rogers asked the Minister of Finance and Personnel, in light of the developments with etendersNI, what steps are being taken to ensure that all SMEs have access to suitable broadband to ensure that they can complete online tenders. (AQT 2993/11-16)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

I am glad that you asked that question after Mr McGlone's question. One of the elements that we are looking at in regional disparity is to make sure that everyone has access to good power supplies — that they have the level of electricity supply that they need — that there is good physical infrastructure and that good broadband infrastructure is in place. The Member will be aware that there have been many interventions from DETI to try to help businesses and homeowners to access broadband infrastructure. Indeed, I spoke to a business in my constituency over the weekend about the use of the SuperConnected Cities vouchers, which allow you to access up to £3,000 to connect to broadband. It is important that we all make our constituents aware of the different schemes that are out there to allow them to become connected, and then they can avail themselves of all the services that are going online.

Photo of Seán Rogers Seán Rogers Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for her answer. I acknowledge the work that you have done to get broadband out to rural areas. As you know, in your constituency as well as mine, certain areas are miles away from the green box or the possibility of that green box. Is there any possibility of grants, so that those people could have satellite broadband to ensure that they can get on to etendersNI as well?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Really, that is what the SuperConnected Cities vouchers are about. It started as a scheme for Belfast, and then it was rolled out to Londonderry. Now, it applies to the whole of Northern Ireland. The voucher is technology neutral, if I can put it that way, and you can access different types of technology, whether satellite, line of sight or fixed line. The voucher allows you to apply and then to have that. It actually empowers businesses to engage in some negotiating with the private sector providers to allow them to get the best deal possible.

I think that it is working.

I am told that Fermanagh and Omagh are second only to Belfast in the uptake of SuperConnected vouchers. I think that it is very encouraging that such a rural area has achieved that level of uptake.