Foster Announces £48 Million Investment in Telecoms

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has announced an investment totalling £48million in Northern Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure.

The Next Generation Broadband project involves the introduction of new technology to increase broadband speeds in Northern Ireland over the next 18 months. It is targeted at areas across Northern Ireland, both urban and rural, which will deliver the greatest economic benefit by receiving high speed broadband.

BT is investing close to £30million in the project, with a further £18 million coming from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment (DETI), under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) Rural Development Programme.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Following a competitive tender exercise, I am pleased to announce that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment has entered into a contract with BT for further development of Northern Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure, specifically the provision of Next Generation Broadband Services.

“This is hugely significant. At a time of economic slowdown when private sector companies are scaling down their investments, this multi-million pound injection in our infrastructure has the potential to indirectly create up to 1,000 additional jobs per annum.”

Under the project BT will deploy fibre to the cabinet technology to a majority of businesses with other fixed line solutions being used where appropriate. The tender specified that businesses in urban areas should receive a minimum downstream speed of 10Mb/s and ones in rural areas 2Mb/s. This will be delivered with many businesses set to receive speeds well in excess of those benchmarks.

The Minister continued: “This project is designed to deliver on the key Programme for Government objective to ensure 85% of businesses in Northern Ireland will have access to next generation broadband speeds by 2011.

“Broadband is an enabler – use of these new services will enable our businesses to increase their productivity, improving the competitiveness of the economy as a whole. In order to do so, it is essential that our businesses take advantage of the exciting new opportunities this project creates so all of Northern Ireland can reap these benefits.”

The contract with BT will deliver faster speeds through the accelerated deployment of fibre optic cable. There will be upgrades to equipment across 166 exchanges and the introduction of new technology to increase broadband speeds to businesses.

The Minister explained: “All of the technologies to be used will be fixed line with fibre being the predominant solution. There are few, if any, parts of the British Isles which will have anywhere near the amount of fibre that is going to be deployed in Northern Ireland, particularly in our rural areas.

“This project will leave a significant legacy. The extent of fibre deployment deep into the network will mean further evolutions of broadband will be easier for us to achieve in the future.

“The aim of the project is to stimulate the competitive market, delivering more choice and using a variety of technology. Other communication providers of broadband services will benefit from this investment by being able to use the enhanced access.”

Ian Livingston, Chief Executive, BT Group said: “Today marks a bold and visionary step in Northern Ireland’s next generation broadband journey. Fibre-based broadband will underpin future competitiveness and economic growth. BT and DETI have developed an innovative technical and commercial solution that sets the pace for other economies to follow.

“I am delighted to announce our long term investment in Northern Ireland because experience from across the globe has demonstrated that partnerships are a very effective way for new technology to be deployed.

“We look forward to building on the legacy of the previous 100% broadband availability contract, and bringing the benefits of next generation broadband speeds to rural and urban businesses. Importantly, all communications providers will have open access to this future-proofed network, driving greater competition and choice for all.”

BT’s investment is on top of its existing commercial investment plans for Northern Ireland.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster concluded: “Telecoms is one of the jewels in our crown and this investment in faster broadband – which builds upon our earlier investments and the provision of 100% access to first generation broadband – provides further opportunity for companies based here to improve their productivity. It is essential that this asset is exploited to the full so that all of Northern Ireland can reap the benefits of a dynamic and innovative economy.”