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Broadband investment could be worth £1.2bn to Northern Ireland's rural economy

Wednesday, June 6th 2018 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Investing in ultrafast broadband could boost Northern Ireland’s rural economy by £1.2bn over the next 15 years, a new report claims.

Theresa May’s Conservative government promised to invest £150m in the rollout of ultrafast broadband in Northern Ireland last year as part of a deal to secure the backing of 10 DUP MPs in key votes in the House of Commons.

It is not yet known exactly how the money will be used but Northern Ireland’s Department for the Economy (DfE) told the BBC earlier this year it had started “preparation work” and would soon be consulting with politicians and industry figures.

Separately, BT announced in November 2017 that it would be investing a further £20m in its own rollout of fibre to the premises (FTTP) broadband in Northern Ireland, taking access to ultrafast broadband to an additional 140,000 premises.

This week a report by DotEcon, commissioned by BT, suggested that if the government’s broadband cash is invested in rural areas, it could boost the economy to the tune of about £8 for every £1 spent.

It said areas such as Fermanagh, Omagh and Mid-Ulster stand to gain the most as they are currently the most disadvantaged in terms of high-speed broadband availability.

'Huge potential'

Other benefits include increased employment across rural Northern Ireland, a reduced carbon footprint and improved access to public services for communities, according to the report.

Dr Dan Maldoon, the report’s author, said: “Despite the challenges of broadband delivery in more rural areas of Northern Ireland, high speed fibre broadband is vital to the economic, environmental and even social wellbeing.

“This report highlights the potential economic return of the government’s £150m investment in rural areas, together with other key benefits to communities across Northern Ireland, such as a reduction in carbon emissions, enhanced digital inclusion and wider access to e-health.”

Mairead Meyer, managing director of Northern Ireland Networks at BT, said: “We await the publication of government plans for the proposed investment and acknowledge that, once they are announced, there will be a public and competitive procurement process.

“However, we wanted to investigate and share the economic impact such an investment would have, particularly within challenging, harder-to-reach rural areas across Northern Ireland.

“This report highlights the huge potential of an expansion of ultrafast fibre broadband in rural areas and how it could open a wealth of opportunities, futureproofing our infrastructure and enabling Northern Ireland to compete alongside the best fibre networks in Europe.”

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