WHILE much of the talk about the DUP’s £1 billion support deal with the Conservatives has been about roads, one area where the funding boost could provide an instantly visible benefit to Fermanagh’s economy is broadband.
A total of £150 million has been set aside in the deal to provide ultra-fast broadband across the North. No concrete details on this have been released yet, it is understood improving the connectivity of rural businesses will be high on the agenda.
Manager of Fermanagh Enterprise, John Treacy, said they would looking forward to the benefits it the money could potentially bring to the area. Particularly since many local businesses, such as those in the Buttermarket, were increasingly relying on online sales.
“It’s the future for those small businesses,” he said. “It’s absolutely crucial to their businesses going forward. I believe any growth that comes from those craft businesses will come from online sales.”
He added: “It’s up to our political people to get the best deal they can for this neck of the woods, and I’m sure they’ll work hard to do so. I look forward to them getting their heads together.”
Mr Treacy even had a constructive idea of where the £150 million could make an instant impact.
While he said the BT service in Enniskillen, and areas close to an exchange, was “actually quite good”, the nature of the network meant at peak times all-important upload speeds could be as low as 3mg, which is “insufficiently quick for business purposes.”
However, a solution may be at hand, through a voucher scheme supported by the Rural Development Programme that provides £3,000 for rural businesses to improve their connectivity. Under that scheme, Fermanagh Enterprise just last week installed a “leased line”, which provides fibre optic broadband straight to the desk of their businesses at the centre.
“It’s a 500mg line, which is fantastic, because you get 500mg upload and download speeds,” said Mr Treacy. “The upload speed generally being the problem, we don’t have that here now.”
Explaining the vouchers could be used to get satellite broadband in rural areas, for example, or by whatever means is best, Mr Treacy said “it could well be the solution for some businesses.”
“It’s an existing project, a tried and tested means of getting better productivity, and I’d like to think some of that £150 million would devoted to extending that particular programme,” he concluded.
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