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South Armagh man’s broadband plight raised in Assembly – and he’s not alone!

Last year millions of pounds of public money was spent trying to improve broadband services for people in rural areas.

But, despite living just 90 metres from a recently upgraded box, a local man has still NO access to broadband.

And the plight of Matthew Nugent – and others like him in areas around Newry and Armagh – has been raised on the floor of the Assembly.

The case of the Carnagh man was brought directly to the attention of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Jonathan Bell.broadband box

The Minister was furnished with Mr Nugent’s address and post code and has personally promised to look at the matter.

He did so after Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MLA Cathal Boylan said people were demanding answers.

And he seized upon the opportunity to do so after the debate was raised about coverage in the North Antrim area.

DUP MLA Paul Frew had sought an update on the provision so superfast broadband in his constituency.

Minister Bell outlined the situation to date across the Province, explaining: “In February 2014, my Department contracted BT to deliver the Northern Ireland broadband improvement project. That is primarily aimed at rural areas and seeks to extend the availability of, primarily, basic and, where possible, superfast broadband to those who have limited choice across Northern Ireland with a target of 45,000 premises.

“The project was scheduled to be completed by 31 December 2015. However, there was engineering complexity, and that date has been extended by three months to 31 March 2016.”

Mr Bell said improvements had already been carried out to over 40,000 premises across Northern Ireland.

He explained too that, just last month, he had announced the introduction of a satellite broadband support scheme, which falls under the auspices of the Northern Ireland broadband improvement project.

It seeks to provide residents and businesses that are still experiencing speeds below two megabits per second with the option of applying for a subsidy of up to £350 towards the cost of installing a satellite broadband connection.

But Minister Bell also confirmed that not all areas will be able to access superfast broadband once the Northern Ireland broadband improvement project is completed.

“We awarded the contract for the second project to BT,” he explained. “That was the superfast broadband roll-out programme.”

He promised to raise specific issues with BT and he revealed he had a “very detailed meeting” with its senior officials last week at which he raised a number of concerns.

The Minister continued: “It is unacceptable, particularly when, first, I have people coming to me whose children have either to be taken back to school or driven to the library just to get their homework done. Secondly, other children are experiencing extreme difficulties just managing against the curriculum, and we are raising that issue with BT.

“Thirdly, we have some hugely successful businesses in the area of computer-aided design (CAD). They must submit their programmes to tender, so people are literally leaving their machines on at night in the hope that, when they get up the next morning, their CAD or specific design, which they must use to tender for business, has come through.

“I will emphasise to BT that we cannot condone that set of circumstances into the future.”

Mr Boylan – who has raised the issue in the Assembly on numerous occasions – welcomed the Minister’s comments.

But he asked: “Why, after spending millions of pounds on assisting BT to provide broadband, do we still have major gaps right across the north, particularly in Newry and Armagh?”

He said he was asking the question of behalf of the Carnagh man, who “lives 90 metres from a box that was upgraded last year and is one of a number of people in rural Armagh and south Armagh who has no broadband provision”.

Mr Boylan said this came after the investment of millions of pounds of public money on it.

The Minister promised to look into the case and added: “We continue to make broadband services widely available via a mix of technologies.

“Almost £64 million has been invested since 2008 to encourage private sector upgrade to networks, particularly in rural areas.

“Seventy-nine per cent of households are currently accessing the internet. I find that a very difficult figure when I compare it with the UK figure of 85%, and 72% of those who are accessing the internet are doing so through a broadband connection.

“The number of premises that are connected to a broadband service offering speeds of two megabits per second or higher is continuing to increase, and now stands at 94%.

“Owing to the extensive next-generation access network put in place by my Department’s investments, there have been over 239,000 fibre-based, high-speed broadband connections to date.

“Although we acknowledge that download speeds in Northern Ireland are continuing to increase, the average download speed stands at 28·3 megabits per second, and that is below the UK average of 29 megabits per second.

“We will continue to pursue how we can get that to a more level playing field.”

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