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High-speed broadband is now a necessity

Conal Henry


Covid-19 and the move towards working from home shows the digital divide cannot continue

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The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted just how important good digital connectivity is for all of us — and not just for streaming entertainment

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted just how important good digital connectivity is for all of us — and not just for streaming entertainment

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted just how important good digital connectivity is for all of us — and not just for streaming entertainment

Like many of us in recent weeks I have been spending my time on video conference calls, using a multitude of platforms and channels.

Painful, messy and excruciating as they can be, I don't know where we'd be without them. In business life, social life and family life they are sustaining our connectivity.

For all of us that connectivity is as important a utility today as light or heat in previous decades and centuries. I was on a Zoom call this week with three people - two had fibre broadband but the third was patched in on an antiquated phone line. Despite the fact his kids were told to stay off Playstation and to hold off streaming the latest box sets while he was on the call, he kept dropping in and out. We eventually had to kill the video link - not ideal. For me this personal story highlights the digital divide.

Today in a Covid-19 world, that failure of connectivity is no longer acceptable. In fact it is more vital than ever that we all have access to fibre broadband right across Northern Ireland.

Too many people are being excluded from a world class communication tool and this has many ramifications.

This crisis has taught us many things. High-speed broadband is not a luxury. It is a basic necessity. Covid-19 has brought into sharp relief the critical importance of broadband infrastructure to all parts of Northern Ireland. It could be a matter of life and death for a person in a remote location.

Unfortunately high quality broadband sometimes seems scarce, hard to come by and not available to all. How is this? Is the technology so specialised? Are there sophisticated components? Is there a global shortage of fibre? No, No and No.

Real broadband is delivered over a fibre connection and fibre is just glass covered in plastic. It's cheaper to make than the copper cabling and yet only 12% of homes have a full fibre connection. This is a legacy of the way the older phone companies operated. In the early days of broadband the telecoms companies provided a version of broadband that's patchy and unreliable. It performs inconsistently across time and space.

Things had already started to change before the Covid-19 emergency. People are starting to see the advantage of full fibre broadband for what it is and demand is growing. This realisation has, finally, made it possible for companies selling full fibre to access finance, take a risk and invest in building full fibre broadband.

At Fibrus we will be investing more than £100m of new capital, bringing real full fibre broadband to homes around Northern Ireland. We've already started. This means that over the next few years, in thousands of homes across Northern Ireland, a Fibrus engineer will be calling to offer fibre broadband for less than the cost of inefficient copper broadband.

Government is now playing its critical role in making sure we, the public, get the broadband connection we are all entitled to get wherever we are.

It's clear that the old way of doing business is the problem - delivery of full fibre broadband is the solution.

Two hundred years ago they didn't ask the canal owners to build the new railway network. It made no sense then and it makes no sense now. Fibrus is fully committed to delivering much needed technological change.

Conal Henry is Executive Chairman of Fibrus @fibrusfullfibre

Belfast Telegraph