THE EXPANSION of the Project Stratum rural broadbrand project “cannot be another false dawn”, it has been warned.
The £165 million project aims to provide superfast broadband to rural homes with unworkably slow speeds, however many in Fermanagh who believed they should be included had been left out in the initial roll out of the scheme for various reasons.
However, with £32 million in additional funding for the project announced in recent months, allowing 8,500 additional properties to be included, hopes are now high many of these homes who had not been initially will soon be included into the scheme.
Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said a total of 22,000 out of the 85,000 properties due to be included in the project had now been connected to high-speed broadband.
“Fibrus Networks is on track to deploy new broadband infrastructure to a total of more than 50,000 premises by the end of this calendar year,” he said.
“Such premises include businesses, thus ensuring they are more efficient, households, helping families to enjoy their leisure time, schoolchildren to do their homework and those working from home to stay connected.”
Fermanagh Cllr Adam Gannon said the problems with the roll out of the scheme have been well documented, and welcomed the expansion of the project.
“Everyone knows that the rollout of Project Stratum has been far from ideal,” he said. “We have seen the farcical situation where one neighbour was included in the project and the other not and areas of great need overlooked without rhyme or reason.
“The Audit Office also raised a number of serious issues about the tender process for the project, which also resulted in premises being omitted from the scheme.”
Cllr Gannon, pictured below, said we “should let the past failings in the rollout” overshadow how important its increased reach will now have, particularly in rural areas where connectivity is poor.
“During the coronavirus pandemic people came to rely on the internet more than ever, as a teacher I know how important it was to allow young people to continue their studies and to keep people in touch with friends and family, that is increasingly important in rural areas where people are more likely to experience isolation,” he said.
“This cannot be another false dawn, the initial rollout of Project Stratum left many people disappointed and Minister Lyons and his department must take this opportunity to put that right once and for all. Access to decent broadband is a basic requirement and we must ensure that everyone has that same opportunity right across the North.”
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