Rural areas unlikely to be part of £20m ultra fast broadband scheme
RURAL areas will likely not receive any investment in ‘ultrafast broadband’ as part of a GBP20 million roll out of new services by BT, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has said.
The Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) scheme is a multi million commercial investment for Northern Ireland which will enable the company to deploy ultrafast broadband services to a further 140,000 homes and businesses by March 2019.
The Council told its councillors that BT has confirmed the main focus of its work will be on urban areas, stating that it is more cost effective for the company to focus on the more urban towns and villages rather than rural areas.
“Therefore, it is assumed that the more rural areas of the Fermanagh and Omagh council district will not receive any support however, more urbanised areas may receive some support,” stated the Council in a paper submitted to the Regeneration and Community Committee.
BT has reported that to the end of October 2017 improvements have been made available to 2,050 premises in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council area.
The Superfast Rollout Programme, which amounts to a total investment of GBP17 million by the Department for the Economy (DfE), aims to provide superfast broadband in areas where the choice is poor or broadband speeds are low, potentially the most rural and remote parts of Northern Ireland.
The Council has said following procurement, BT was appointed to the scheme and work began in February 2015.
It was scheduled to finish by December 2017, however, this has been extended until June 2018, and when completed, it will bring more choice and improve speeds to over 38,000 premises.
Of the 2,050 premises, 316 customers (19.79 per cent) have taken up a new service.
Meanwhile, Councillors are also earmarked to discuss the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Government and the Democratic Unionist Party, specifically the potential GBP150 million broadband fund.
The Council states that at a recent Ofcom event, the Department for the Economy (DfE) advised that it does not yet know which Department will be responsible for the roll out of this initiative when it is launched.
“The Department also indicated that it is not expected that Councils will have a delivery role in this project.
DfE expressed some concern regarding the practicality of spending the total sum within two years, as the normal spend for similar initiatives, would be GBP50 million per annum.”
The Rural Development Programme (RDP) Broadband Scheme has allocated up to GBP250,000, to provide financial support to fill the gap for rural dwellers who cannot avail of quality broadband and will help address the very rural ‘not spots’ that are not within the scope of any other government initiatives.
The Fermanagh and Omagh Local Action Group has been advised by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) that in light of the confidence and supply agreement RDP funds “should not be invested in broadband initiatives until the details of this funding is clearer and this is most likely to be May/June2018.”
As a result of the ongoing connectivity issues the Council is setting up a Broadband Working Group with a proposal that the first meeting of the group should take the form of a workshop to provide members with a detailed breakdown of the variety of initiatives underway, feedback from other Councils as to their interest in participating in collaborative working on Broadband matters and to agree a future work plan for the group.