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Assembly to Debate Motion on Rural Broadband

17 June, 2013 - by Phil Flanagan

The Assembly will tomorrow debate a Sinn Féin motion calling for greater investment in rural broadband to provide equitable broadband speed, cost and reliability.

Speaking ahead of the motion, the Deputy Chair of the Assembly’s Enterprise, Trade & Investment Committee Phil Flanagan said:

“Since 2007, tens of millions of pounds of public money has rightly been invested in improving rural broadband provision across the north. However, there still remain a large number of areas where householders and businesses are unable to access even the most basic of broadband services.

“In 2013, this is unacceptable.

“The Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment (DETI), in conjunction with the Department for Agriculture & Rural Development (DARD) is currently working on a tender to award further funding to broadband providers to fill in many of these gaps.

“What now needs to happen is that all forms of technology are explored to see which can best improve the situation. While the use of fibre optics to every cabinet has been a great success for many areas, it will never deliver broadband to every property.

“By utilising the latest advancements in telecommunications technology, significant improvements can be made to the current coverage areas in a much more cost effective manner.

“The planned rollout of 4G spectrum, improvements to wireless transmitters and further developments in fibre cabling all mean that the provision of broadband can greatly improve in the coming years, but government policy needs to enhance rather than prohibit further developments.

“An assessment needs to be made as to whether we should introduce a Universal Service Obligation, so that like postal services and landline phones, broadband providers would be obligated to serve every single property, regardless of its remoteness. To date, no work has been to assess the potential cost or economic benefits of such a measure but it needs to be a central consideration as we move forward.”

The text of the motion is:

That this Assembly welcomes the investment by the Executive into improving access to high speed broadband; recognises the continuing need for improvements in broadband infrastructure in many rural areas; and calls on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to work with local stakeholders to identify the areas that are in greatest need and to target investment into those areas to provide equitable broadband speed, cost and reliability.

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