Government's failure to provide a fast and reliable broadband service is threatening rural communities
The allocation of broadband is threatening the sustainability of rural communities in Northern Ireland. While Belfast and our larger population centres are rightly proud of the fastest broadband speeds in the UK, many rural communities in Northern Ireland have the slowest speeds in all of Europe.
While rural residents can understand that BT, as the owner of the broadband infrastructure, is driven by commercial considerations, we are increasingly frustrated by the use of Government subsidies for broadband access, which has followed a population-centred model. Even the recent rural-focused broadband improvement project, funded by the Northern Ireland Executive, has targeted the towns with minimal benefit for communities, such as my own in Co Armagh. Indeed, the gap in digital broadband provision has widened with no solution in sight.
The new draft Programme for Government has set targets and outcomes relating to tackling social exclusion, developing a more equal society and connecting people. It has a specific target to increase the proportion of houses with superfast broadband - it was 77% in May 2015, as it was in 2014. The Government have stated that it is now over 80%.
Should our Government not set a more challenging target of providing a decent service to the forgotten 20% of households who are not a priority for the commercial sector? Most of the households in my community don't have a speed of two megabits per second - that is at least 15 times slower than the government target. When we are able to make a connection, we are limited to one supplier for broadband and asked to pay the same price, or even more in some cases, for what is an inferior service.
Our children are unable to complete their increasingly internet-focused school homework; our small businesses are struggling to compete; our houses are left vacant; and Government tells us we must get online to access essential services such as health.
Chairman, Lissummon Community Association, Co Armagh