Rural and urban digital divide to narrow as broadband fees fall
Broadband charges for businesses and residential customers in rural areas of Northern Ireland are to fall, as a result of an instruction issued by the telecoms regulator Ofcom to BT Wholesale.
By mid-August, BT Wholesale must reduce the prices it charges to internet service providers in rural and other sparsely populated areas by 12% below the rate of inflation.
While the move will affect all of the UK, the demographics of Northern Ireland mean it will benefit disproportionately. The measure follows efforts by ministers here to improve broadband coverage and price competitiveness in rural areas.
Ofcom expects that there will be a more competitive market place for the provision of rural broadband following the cut in wholesale prices.
The difference in price for receiving broadband in rural and urban areas should be substantially cut, the watchdog says.
Other benefits, it predicts, are greater investment in rural areas by BT Wholesale — in response to higher levels of block acquisition of broadband capacity by ISPs — and more focus on the latest generation of broadband technology.
Ofcom’s action was welcomed by Northern Ireland Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill.
“In today’s digital society, broadband communication is increasingly important for business development and growth, delivery of government services and to our everyday lives,” she said.
“But some rural areas of the north are being left behind. Without access, or a decent level of access to broadband, these communities and businesses are being denied the opportunity to join the digital age.
“Ofcom’s decision has the potential to narrow the digital divide between urban areas and more rural parts of the north.”
She added: “This has the potential to bring economic and social benefits to rural areas. From an economic perspective, it will no doubt bring some relief to many rural businesses who may be suffering as a result of having poor access to broadband or inadequate speeds with their broadband service.”