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£4.4m gov wad to get all Northern Ireland up to 2 Mbit/s

Ulster bands still not broad enough

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Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt slapped £4.4m on Northern Ireland's broadband pile today in a move to roll out the tech to the entire country.

The NI Executive is tasked with matching that sum of cash in order to reach out to the final 3 per cent of homes and businesses not yet upgraded to faster broadband technology.

"Matching the investment will allow the Northern Ireland Executive to provide everyone with access to at least 2 Mbit/s," said the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The government money was allocated from the £530m pot set aside as part of the broadband investment fund mainly intended for hard-to-reach rural areas in the UK.

Hunt said that the DCMS was mulling over the possibility of holding a pilot in Northern Ireland to work out how to upgrade the remaining homes and businesses in the country still awaiting broadband access.

"I am delighted the Northern Ireland Executive shares our view of the importance of broadband and has provided so many homes and businesses with superfast broadband access," said the minister.

"Our investment will help provide everyone with decent broadband access and ensure no one is left behind in the digital age."

The funds allocated for Northern Ireland are significantly lower than the amount of cash splashed on Wales just last month.

That country won £56.9m from the Coalition's £530m investment pot, following a successful bid for the cash from the Welsh Assembly.

And like NI, the Welsh government needs to match the investment if it hopes to achieve its "superfast" broadband upgrade plan to reach 90 per cent of homes and businesses in Wales.

In May, the Coalition divvied up £50m of its £530m rural broadband cash to councils in Wiltshire, Norfolk and Devon and Somerset, in what was expected to be its final wave of pilots.

The money spent on Northern Ireland is significantly less than five years ago, when the country was handed nearly £10m by the previous Labour administration to bring broadband to everyone.

However, it would appear that despite those funds, NI fell short – by 3 per cent – of delivering a minimum 2 Mbit/s broadband.

In 2005, BT wired-up the last nine telephone exchanges in Northern Ireland so that every single one was capable of delivering broadband. But some parts of NI were left without a high-speed internet connection and the country could only boast 98.5 per cent broadband coverage.

By early 2006, a combination of wireless and satellite broadband technologies were used to supply the final 1.5 per cent of NI without broadband access.

Councils across the UK that will miss out on the current funding round being dished out by the DCMS will be hoping for public investment. A further £300m, subject to government approval, is expected to be dished out by 2015. ®

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