To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps he is taking to improve access to high speed broadband for small rural businesses.
We are working closely with the Department for Economy team in Northern Ireland on the £165m Project Stratum who are finalising Invitation to Tender documents in relation to issuing the OJEU Procurement by the end of April. This will extend Superfast coverage in Northern Ireland to approximately 98% of premises and include many small rural businesses.
Recently, the Full-Fibre Northern Ireland Consortium of 10 local councils were successful in the award of £15m under the DCMS Wave 3 of the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme. This is in addition to the DCMS LFFN Wave 2 Belfast City Council £11.5m and the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon £2.4m projects. These projects will all help to provide more full-fibre to public buildings in urban and rural areas and this should encourage commercial suppliers more cost-effectively to reach more premises. These projects form part of the investment of almost £300m, to stimulate commercial full fibre investment in both urban and rural areas across the UK, by 2021. This includes the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which can be used by small businesses to contribute to the installation cost of faster connections over gigabit-capable infrastructure.
The £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme, due to launch in Spring, will also benefit rural businesses. The programme will trial a model for full fibre to public buildings - starting with primary schools - which will act as hubs in rural areas, alongside vouchers for funding gigabit-capable connectivity to homes and businesses across the UK.
These programmes address hard to reach areas and meet the needs of the challenging connectivity issues experienced by small rural businesses.
To ensure no-one is left behind, we are introducing a broadband Universal Service Obligation to give everyone a clear, enforceable right to request high-speed broadband by 2020.