The Fermanagh and Omagh council are worried that a project planning to improve broadband in Northern Ireland will not benefit rural areas.
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have collaboratively invested £23.7m into a project to improve broadband in Northern Ireland.
The project, called the Northern Ireland Broadband Improvement Project (NIBIP) will aim to increase the availability of Superfast Broadband in areas were internet connectivity is currently poor or low.
The project will introduce a new broadband system into Northern Ireland called fibre optic broadband (or Superfast Broadband) which uses fibre optic cables to increase the speed of internet connections. The introduction of the fibre broadband connection will be delivered through two different types of infrastructures:
Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC)
Through this method, fibre optic cables are connected from the telephone exchange or distribution point to an existing or new roadside cabinet (see the photograph above).
Fibre to the home/premises (FTTH or FTTP)
This will provide an end-to-end fibre optic connection. It will run the full distance from the exchange to the home or business premises.
Below is a video explaining the connection process
The project will be implemented into designated areas of Northern Ireland in accordance to household and business postcodes. The DETI has explained that this method of delivery has been used to accommodate the large area in which the project is planning to cover. The project will be implemented in eight phases between February 2014 and December 2015. This process will see some postcodes enabled before others. Some postcodes have even been left off the list altogether. This has caused concern among those who have been left off the list and will miss out on the broadband improvements.
See if your postcode is included on the list: http://www.online.detini.gov.uk/Broadband/Start.aspx
The Fermanagh and Omagh council have raised concerns about this project. They believe rural areas, which would account for most of their council area, will not benefit from these improvements. In particular, they blame the fact that the project, and previous projects, have not being ring-fenced specifically for rural areas.
The DETI have defneded the projects decisions to pinpoint certain areas for improvement. They said they conducted extensive research before deciding which areas to target through the project. These assessments were carried out in conjunction with B.T. They evaluated financial and technical constraints, and ‘the best possible use of public funding’ to achieve best value for money.
Arlene Foster, Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has directly responded to the issues raised by the council. She has stated that although it is thought by some that rural areas are not being targeted, she believes, “that is not the case”. In a letter to the council she emphasized that this project is specifically geared towards helping rural areas. The letter also pointed out that, to date the project has improved broadband access in over 17,500 homes, including 3,000 homes in the Fermanagh and Omagh Council area.
The Enterprise Minister admitted that after the completion of the NIBIP, “the needs of all premises may not be met”. She explained that in light of this the DETI is planning to fund a further project with an investment of over £14m to continue to work and increase the reach of Superfast Broadband by 2017. She added that this additional investment will also include improving internet connection for postcodes within the Fermanagh and Omagh area.
The concerns raised by the council are not stand alone as they have been echoed by concerned residents of the council area.
Ann Curran, who lives in the countryside in Fermanagh believes she would be better off not having any internet than paying for a service which she calls “temperamental”. She explains that her sons who are studying for their GCSE’s depend on the internet for their school work. Mrs Curran said she feels a constant sense of frustration when trying to connect to her internet. And on occasions the lack of internet in their home has resulted in her sons not being able to complete their school assignments.
She said, “It’s not fair that we are paying the same price for internet as everyone else, yet we can go for days at a time without the right access”. When asked about her feelings towards the NIBIP, she said, “I would really love for it to happen (the broadband improvements) but I have been disappointed with these sorts of promises before. The internet in the town might improve with it but I doubt us being in the countryside will get any of the benefits”.
Another rural B.T Broadband user uploaded a video about her internet experiences to youtube in the form of a comical short which won her competition with NI Broadband in 2013.