AQW 1973/22-27 – Rural broadband

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister for the Economy what financial assistance his Department is considering to help those where not included in the original scoping exercise under Project Stratum and are being asked to contribute financially towards a self build product offered by Fibrus to access hyperfast broadband.

Minister for the Economy: Project Stratum was developed to improve connectivity for premises unable to access broadband services of 30 Megabits per second or greater, primarily across rural areas of Northern Ireland. The contract to make services available to the defined intervention area was awarded to Fibrus Networks in November 2020.

Premises were determined as ineligible for Project Stratum based on the following criteria:

another broadband infrastructure provider submitted information to my Department which indicated that a broadband service of at least 30 Mbps was available at the premises, or would be available by January 2022, or

information available from Pointer (the address database for Northern Ireland, maintained by Land & Property Services) at the time that the intervention area for Project Stratum was being developed indicated that the premises was not built and approved as of January 2019.

The intervention area for Project Stratum currently consists of 84,500 premises. Fibrus Networks has been able to include additional premises during deployment phases without the requirement for public subsidy, should, for example, the premises in question be in close enough proximity to planned new infrastructure, combined with confirmation that there is sufficient capacity to connect such premises. However, a requirement of the network design is that spare capacity is kept to a minimum.

Fibrus Networks, the contractor for Project Stratum, is developing a solution whereby if a premises is not included in the Project Stratum intervention area, due to its ineligibility, meaning there would be a cost to connect the premsies, a contribution from both Fibrus Networks and the end-user can be made to allow the premises to connect to the new network infrastructure.

This self-fund / self-build solution may be an option for some people who express an interest in pursuing such a solution, and it is a matter for the individual concerned and the contractor to determine if such a solution is viable. However, my Department cannot provide funding in relation to premises which have not been categorised as eligible for intervention. My Department continues to explore State aid compliant options in order to maximise coverage under this and future interventions for all identified eligible premises, and DfE officials are in the process of engaging with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to explore what additional measures can be implemented in Northern Ireland under the UK Government’s Project Gigabit plan. My Department will be making further announcements in relation to this intervention through the summer, along with other measures intended to maximise potential broadband coverage for eligible premises under Project Stratum.