Parliament Buildings: Internet

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland Assembly Commission – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 29th November 2016.

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Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 3:30 pm, 29th November 2016

4. Mr T Buchanan asked the Assembly Commission to outline the steps that have been taken to improve Internet speeds in Parliament Buildings during periods of peak use. (AQO 805/16-21)

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. I hope that he does not press me on the technical details. In 2011, the Assembly Commission procured and installed its own dedicated Internet connection to provide better and more consistent access to the Internet for all Parliament Buildings users. The service was originally provisioned at 20 megabits per second. Due to increasing demand, it was increased to 40 megabits per second in February 2013. In September 2014, a further additional line was installed to provide resilience. At that time, the line speed was increased to 80 megabits per second overall. Since 2011, the service provided has been upgraded three times.

Since the new connection in 2014, the Assembly has benefited from significant additional bandwidth. Information Systems (IS) Office staff proactively monitor the status of the Internet connection. At present, the Assembly Commission and the IS Office are not aware of any major problems with the Internet in the Building, although there are surges in use at various times; there can be about 900 different users on the Internet at one time in the Building, which might cause momentary or transitional difficulties. However, as far as the Commission and the IS Office are aware, there is no major reason for concern.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I thank the Member for his answer. I appreciate what he said, but I think that Members are finding that, at lunchtime, speeds are still very slow. Maybe that could be addressed.

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

As I indicated in my initial reply, during peak hours and on sitting days, especially around lunchtime, when people are about the Building more, there can be in excess of 900 devices, ranging from traditional PCs to smartphones and other devices, accessing the Wi-Fi. That surge may lead to a reduction in speed. The Commission will keep that under review. The current contract allows for an increase of a further 20 megabits per second.

If the Commission, informed by Members, determines that there is a need to go in that direction, I am sure that it will not be found wanting.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

Will the commissioner provide an update on the engagement with mobile phone networks on improving phone signals in much of Parliament Buildings?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

In my lifetime on the Commission, which has not been very long, the matter has not been flagged up at Commission level. It may have been flagged up to management. If so, I will get a response to the Member. If it has not been flagged up to management or the Commission, I am sure that both of us will look at it.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

Will the Member update us on what the cost would be to the Assembly to increase the connection capacity?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will get back to the Member on what the cost might be. As I indicated in a supplementary answer, there is a provision in the current contract for further upgrade by 20 megabits to 100 megabits. I am sure that the cost is part of the contract, but I will get back to the Member on the precise amount.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Given the fact that we have businesses that have in excess of 1,000 or 1,500 devices being used on the Internet with superfast broadband, what does the Commission consider to be the impact of low Internet connectivity speeds on sitting days on the ability of Members to research for debates?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am sure that all members of the Commission will hear what the Member is saying. As I said, there has not been much evidence brought to the Commission that there is a big problem. Yes, we recognise that there are surges in use and that that might slow down connectivity, but, as far as I am aware and as far as I am informed by management in the Building, we are not aware that there is a major concern. However, the fact that four Members have asked questions this afternoon on the matter yet there were no supplementaries asked to the first question, Members must be flagging up the issue to the Commission, and I think that the Commission should look at it.