Broadband network improvements being explored in Northern Ireland

The Department for the Economy (DfE) is undertaking a consultation to determine the slowest broadband connectivity areas in Northern Ireland.

In October last year, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill was passed to provide civil servants greater flexibility in making decisions regarding network improvement works.

The DfE is currently exploring whether the progress works can be undertaken without approval from a minister. Whether the projected timescale for the works can be changed is also being investigated.

The works are to be paid with £150 million from a confidence and supply deal made by the DUP and Conservatives. However, the money had to be spent within two years. There are concerns that the money may not be able to be spent in the stipulated timeframe as it has been considered by industry representatives as extremely "tight".

The department said: "Assuming that the project business case is fully approved, and a positive outcome to the open procurement is achieved we anticipate contract award by the end of quarter three in 2019 and the first deployment of infrastructure by April 2020."

However, DfE has said the confidence and supply agreement did not actually state which two years the monies had to be spent within.

DfE has requested the public to check their postcodes and confirm whether they are able to access broadband speeds of 30 megabits per second, the threshold speed for superfast broadband.

Research from Ofcom has previously shown that around 40,000 premises cannot access broadband speeds required by the average user.

Unsurprisingly, rural areas are the most affected.

The UK government has agreed to also contribute £75 million per year over two years to provide Northern Ireland with ultrafast broadband, offering speeds of 300mbps or more.

The focus at the moment, however, is to provide superfast broadband so Northern Ireland homes and businesses that are presently experiencing speeds of lower than 30mbps.