Dearcadh Eile: Flanagan welcomes 5 million rural broadband …

Sinn F in MLA Phil Flanagan has welcomed confirmation from the Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill that her Department is to invest 5 million in improving broadband in rural areas across the north and that the 4,000 premises across 977 post code areas across Fermanagh unable to access fixed line broadband would be the top priority for this funding. videoMr Flanagan was speaking after questioning the Minister in the Chamber on the matter.

The Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLA said: “This is very welcome news; for some time the Minister for Agriculture & Rural Development has been assessing how best to invest this 5 million and she has now confirmed that areas of high deprivation will be funded as a priority and funding will be rolled out across as many of the rural not spots as possible. “The Minister has also confirmed to me that this project will be commencing shortly with procurement and implementation on the ground expected to start this summer and the project completed in spring 2015.

“Many rural dwellers in Fermanagh cannot access any form of reliable or affordable form of internet connection and it is vital that government steps in and delivers where there are clear gaps in current provision. “Broadband for people in rural areas is a must; it can no longer be regarded as an optional extra. “Those trying to run a business need it, those going through our education system need it and rural dwellers can no longer be left in the dark ages.”

Notes to Editors: Transcript from Question Time where the matter was discussed is included below. 2. Mr Flanagan asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to outline the areas of Fermanagh to which she plans to allocate further resources to improve rural broadband coverage. (AQO 3955/11-15) Mrs O’Neill: I am pleased to announce to the House today that the 5 million that I am committing to the broadband delivery project will be used exclusively to target rural areas of high deprivation across the North that currently have no fixed wire infrastructure to access broadband.

I hope that the funding will stimulate companies supplying broadband to get into rural areas and to use the infrastructure to provide access to rural dwellers and businesses to use broadband. I want the investment to stimulate rural businesses and give rural dwellers a wider access to services via broadband. Regarding Fermanagh, there are some 4,000 premises listed as being rural across 977 postcodes.

I want as many of those premises as possible to benefit from our funding.Although areas of high deprivation will initially be funded as a priority, funding will be rolled out across as many of the rural “not spots” as possible. My Department is also involved in some other initiatives to encourage better take-up of broadband, particularly by farmers. All of us need to think seriously about using broadband as a better way to do business.

Mr Flanagan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for her answer and for her announcement to the House that this is finally going to be invested in, although I thought that she was going to say that it was going to be exclusively for Fermanagh. Will the Minister provide the House with an update as to when the initiative will begin and when we can expect to see an improvement on the ground?

Mrs O’Neill: I thank the Member for his question. I am sure that he is very glad to hear that the project will benefit all rural dwellers in the North and not just those in Fermanagh. He asked about the timescale and delivery.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) project, which we are engaging with, has already started, and the procurement and implementation on the ground is to start in the summer, so we are very quickly coming up to that date.

The intention is that the project will be finished by spring 2015, with many elements in place not long after the project hits the ground.

The aim is to get access to as many people as possible, but for some of the more complicated and hard-to-reach areas, the timescale is until spring 2015.

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