Telecoms Minister Jonathan Bell has promised fed up householders and farmers in Londonderry’s rural hinterland who feel they are being treated like second class citizens by the Executive and service providers that some of them will be brought up to date with superfast broadband improvements by December 2017.
Frustration has been growing in the countryside to the south and east of the city with poor connectivity reported from Donemana to Claudy and in other areas.
The Sentinel understands that in March approximately 120 people from these areas met to express their annoyance to various service providers with farmers particularly frustrated that the lack of adequate provision was damaging their businesses.
Now the matter’s been raised at Stormont by DUP MLA Gary Middleton who has received an assurance from his party colleague Jonathan Bell that steps are being taken to address what’s a live issue in the rural area.
Mr Middleton asked Mr Wells what actions the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETINI) had taken to ensure access to super fast broadband in rural areas of the Foyle constituency.
Mr Wells said DETINI had supported several projects, including one specifically targeted in the Foyle basin, aimed at increasing the footprint of fixed-wireless superfast broadband networks and that it had also led on the deployment of Fibre-to-the-Cabinet technology to nearly 2,500 cabinets across Northern Ireland, including 162 serving the Foyle constituency, enabling the delivery of superfast broadband.
However, he accepted some people have been left behind but said that this too will be addressed.
“In February 2014, my Department contracted BT to deliver the Northern Ireland Broadband Improvement project (NIBIP) which will, inter alia, extend the availability of superfast broadband to those who have limited choice across Northern Ireland and including exchange areas serving the Foyle constituency,” he said.
“Recognising that NIBIP will not deliver superfast broadband to all premises, in February 2015, my Department awarded a further contract to BT for delivery of the Superfast Roll-out Programme, under which they will provide superfast broadband improvements for 38,000 premises across Northern Ireland, by December 2017, including in areas within the Foyle constituency.
“The project has commenced with an extensive survey and design process, which will take several months to complete. Further details on roll-out will be published to the NI Direct platform when available.
“My officials are also assisting the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in its expansion of the Super-connected Cities Programme in Northern Ireland.
“Under the expansion, branded as Super-connected Northern Ireland, there is an opportunity for the new Super-Councils to deliver a voucher scheme, similar to those delivered in the Belfast and Derry & Strabane District Council areas, to support the installation costs of high speed broadband access for businesses, charities and social enterprise,” said Mr Wells.