Belfast could soon have access to free wireless and broadband internet if plans to make the city one of the most connected places in Europe are approved.
Belfast is one of 10 municipal areas across the UK to benefit from Westminster’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s £100m Urban Broadband Fund (UBF), with £6m of funding already guaranteed.
However, a further £7.7m is up for grabs if the council can demonstrate there is a demand for better broadband connections. The council is now asking members of the public to complete an online survey to show their support for the bid.
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to place Belfast at the leading edge of technology across Europe and give us the infrastructure to build successful international businesses and attract further foreign direct investment,” said DUP Lord Mayor of Belfast Gavin Robinson.
“This is not just a Belfast City Council bid — this will benefit the entire city and we need all to declare their support urgently as the closing date is just around the corner at the end of July.”
Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey, who chairs the council’s strategic policy and resources committee, said: “By 2015, we aim to have citywide access to a network providing ultra-fast capacity to meet the demands of creative industries which send large volumes of data.
“Super-connected Belfast also aims to provide 100% broadband coverage across the city and provide a Wi-Fi infrastructure within the city centre and at transport hubs, conference venues and other key locations.”
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has also backed the move and claims better broadband services could help grow the Northern Ireland economy.
“I value the contribution that infrastructure development can make to economic growth and I support what the council aims to achieve under its ambitious plans,” the minister said.
“The council cannot achieve its objectives in isolation and I would call on all interested parties to get behind the plans, thereby demonstrating a commitment to making Belfast and, indeed, all of Northern Ireland an attractive proposition for living, working and investing.”
Questions and answers
Question: What is the super-connected project?
Answer: The project will provide city wide access to speeds of at least 80Mbps, with high-speed ultrafast capacity (of at least 100MB) for businesses which require it. There will be investment in wireless infrastructure within the city centre and at transport hubs, conference venues and other key locations.
Question: So who will be funding the project?
Answer: Belfast has already been awarded £6m from the Westminster Department of Culture, Media and Sport £100m Urban Broadband Fund (UBF). A further £7.7m is up for grabs. The city council has also allocated £3m from the City Investment Fund.
Question: When will the project be complete?
Answer: Following confirmation of the full funding award by the Department of Culture and Media, the plan is to have free public internet access across the Belfast City Council area by 2015.
Question: Why is it important to the city of Belfast?
Answer: The development of Belfast's economic infrastructure, including an excellent communications network infrastructure, will be essential in promoting growth and inward investment. The super-connected City Project will support this growth. Digital inclusion is important if Belfast is to maximise the potential for economic growth.
Question: How do the general public get involved?