AQW 19122/17-22 – Project Stratum

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister for the Economy what rural proofing has been undertaken in relation to the costs to consumers of the delivery of Project Stratum.

Minister for the Economy: Project Stratum aims to improve broadband connectivity for homes and businesses throughout Northern Ireland. The rural proofing conducted for this much-needed intervention included a Rural Needs Impact Assessment (RNIA) in 2019. This focused on the benefits of improved broadband infrastructure for people in rural areas, including access to services and the associated economic and social benefits.

In order to deliver Project Stratum, Fibrus Networks are building an Open Access Network, accessible to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Wholesale prices, for a range of broadband products, are published on the website.

Under the terms of the awarded contract, and in line with State aid rules, my Department is required to benchmark and control prices of products offered to other providers. This pricing is subject to regular review by both the Department and Building Digital UK, the division within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that is the National Competency Centre for the project. These controls provide a safeguard to consumers by ensuring that a supplier is neither able to exploit its monopoly position to charge too much, nor undercut other providers by charging too little, relative to relevant benchmarks.

Ofcom also have a role in providing advice on the appropriateness of wholesale benchmark pricing points of such projects, as well as reviewing such projects as part of its competitive assessment of relevant markets.