Improved broadband worth £1.2 billion to Northern Ireland economy

  • Investment to bring ultrafast connectivity to rural areas could help Northern Ireland become the UK’s best-connected nation according to a new report.

    The report, published by the Northern Ireland Broadband Industry Forum, found that improved connectivity could be worth up to £1.2 billion to the Northern Irish economy if an existing £150 million government fund is used to target rural areas with ultrafast fibre broadband.

    To support Northern Ireland’s long-term ambition of becoming a digital leader, the report calls for greater private investment in future-proof fibre connectivity and calls for greater focus on deploying ultrafast broadband in rural areas.

    The Northern Ireland Broadband Industry Forum was brought together by the CBI to examine how to best utilise the proposed £150 million investment outlined under the DUP and Conservative Confidence and Supply Arrangement to deliver the broadband aspirations for Northern Ireland.

    “Investment in new future-proof broadband infrastructure is vital to overcoming decades of neglect and unlocking the potential of businesses across Northern Ireland," said Angela McGowan, CBI NI Director and Chair of the NI Broadband Industry Forum. "Using the NI broadband fund effectively will attract private investment, help create jobs, grow the economy and deliver broadband that’s fit for the future.”

    Welcoming the report, Noel Lavery Permanent Secretary at the Department for the Economy said: “The Department recognises the importance of faster broadband for the development of the economy.

    "This report is timely and will help inform the Department’s thinking on how best to utilise the Confidence and Supply investment for broadband. We will continue to engage with the Northern Ireland Broadband Industry Forum and other stakeholders as we consider the best way forward to improve broadband access for everyone in Northern Ireland.”

    Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK when it comes to superfast broadband access. Ofcom data shows approximately 100,000 premises across Northern Ireland have to make do with a connection of less than 30Mbps; less than two thirds (63%) of rural premises can access a connection of 30Mbps or faster; and one in five are unable to access a ‘decent connection’ of just 10Mbps.

    The report makes a number of technical recommendations to help speed the rollout of ultrafast broadband and improve productivity, including introducing a gigabit voucher scheme to subsidise installing gigabit capable connections; waiving business rates on fibre optic cables and in so doing remove a disincentive to building new fibre; Open access Duct Infrastructure for new road and public realm to facilitate ultrafast rollout; and expanding Local Full Fibre Network schemes.

    The Northern Ireland Broadband Industry Forum’s report comes shortly after the UK government announced its blueprint to become a world leader in digital connectivity by accelerating the rollout of gigabit-capable connections. The government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review sets out a long-term strategy that will increase competition amongst infrastructure providers and create an environment which stimulates private investment in ultrafast broadband.

    Small businesses are expected to benefit from the £150m should some of the fund be allocated on a gigabit voucher scheme. This would no doubt be welcome news to business owners particularly those in rural areas currently being held back in this digital age.

    The Northern Ireland Broadband Industry Forum is chaired by the CBI and brings together government, regulators, industry experts, business groups and internet service providers.

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