Broadband company Fibrus Networks has beaten Openreach to a £165m contract bringing next generation broadband to rural areas in Northern Ireland.
Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced Fibrus’ win of the Project Stratum deal today. Fibrus has won the deal over Openreach - the dominant broadband fibre provider here and part of BT.
A sum of £150m for the deal was allocated to her department as part of the DUP’s Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Conservative Party three years ago.
Project Stratum is also receiving £15m from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, as well as a substantial investment by Fibrus in network build costs.
It will bring better broadband to areas which cannot access speeds of 30 megabits or above.
The Minister said: “After a competitive and very robust procurement process, I am pleased to announce that the contract has been awarded to Fibrus.
“This announcement means that we are one step closer to bringing next generation broadband services to those businesses and people who need it most. Fibrus proposes a full fibre solution, capable of offering speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to almost 97% of premises in the target intervention area. Deployment of the new infrastructure is expected to commence immediately and implementation will run until March 2024.
“While always recognised as important, the pandemic and restrictions we have all had to live under have underscored the importance of broadband connectivity. Project Stratum will transform the broadband connectivity landscape for many of our citizens and businesses across primarily rural areas of Northern Ireland.”
Fibrus chairman Conal Henry, a former director of Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, added said the investment would position Northern Ireland “a digital global leader”.
“Full fibre broadband is key to unlocking the full economic and social potential of our rural communities and is as vital a part of our 21st century infrastructure as power, water or transport. This investment enables towns, villages and rural communities to change the narrative, keep people and communities connected and facilitate the increasing demand for working and studying at home. The benefits of full fibre broadband are more relevant now in a Covid context than ever before.”
He said Fibrus had already invested £65m in bringing full fibre broadband to regional towns in South Down, Mid Ulster and North Antrim.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union said the announcement was a “major milestone” for rural areas.
Deputy president David Brown said: “The UFU has lobbied continuously to gain better broadband on behalf of our members as a large proportion live in rural areas and are seriously disadvantaged by a poor or non-existent broadband service.
“This became more evident during lockdown as the need for a strong and reliable broadband connection increased with many becoming dependent on it to stay connected with others, for work and educational purposes, and to complete necessary application processes that were transferred to a digital format.
“That’s not to mention the daily running of farm businesses as more essential agriculture activities went online including livestock marts.”