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MLA calls for Minister to press providers on rural broadband and mobile coverage

Bar doing fibre, not only to the cabinets but to homes, there are some rural areas where satellite may be the only solution.

That is according to a local MLA who has pressed the new Finance Minister Simon Hamilton to take action on rural broadband and mobile phone coverage.

Speaking in the Assembly, Sinn Fein Assemblyman Cathal Boylan pointed out 42 per cent of premises in rural areas still do not have adequate access to broadband.

And the Armagh MLA called on the Minister to develop proposals to ensure Northern Ireland has a modern telecommunications network.

He said: “Tullygoonigan is an old creamery outside Armagh city. A number of years ago, it was taken over and turned into a number of units. The owner of the premises could not get people to take the units because of the download speeds. Thankfully, the previous Minister intervened, and the business is up and going and going very well.

“There was a case of a young lady who lives near the border and only about 500 yards from a cabinet that had been upgraded just recently, but it is on a different line. She can see it, but she came to me and told me that her son had to travel to an urban setting to download stuff for his homework.

“I am sure that most of us have experienced such problems and examples. To be fair, my colleague Megan Fearon and I have met BT on a number of occasions, and I put on record my thanks to BT for the way in which it has dealt with some of this.”

But Mr Boylan said the issue was that the Assembly needed to look at the providers and hold them to account.

“I want the Minister to touch on the broadband improvement project. In 2014, at the outset of that project, which had an investment of £23·5 million, the aim was to push a faster broadband service to an additional 45,000 premises: to date, 17,500 homes and businesses have been facilitated.

“We know rightly that, bar doing fibre not only to the cabinets but to homes, there are some rural areas where satellite may be the only solution. I want the Minister to give an update on where BT is with that.

“Most of us have a good working relationship with BT, but there is still a lot more to be done. For most of the people coming back to me, BT says that they can access broadband.

“However, when they phone up — some of them are already getting charged — and get routers out, there are problems. It is up to us and the Minister; if we are giving out public money to deliver, somebody has to be held to account.”

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