The Department for the Economy has confirmed that 97,000 premises in Northern Ireland will be upgraded to superfast broadband (30Gbit/s) under the £165 million Project Stratum. The majority of the funding for the Project (£150 million) resulted from the demand-and-supply agreement between the UK’s government and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. This announcement confirms that the Project will go ahead despite the change in UK government.
Northern Ireland is already one of the best connected areas of the UK, with over 90% of premises having access to 30Mbit/s speeds, and with the highest penetration of full fibre of any devolved region (over 25% of premises having gigabit-capable FTTP). This is largely due to investment from Openreach (BT), Virgin and Fibrus.
Procurement for Project Stratum began in July 2019 and is rumoured to include bids from BT, Fibrus and private investment firm Granahan McCourt (who are also the Irish Government’s preferred bidder for the EUR3 billion National Broadband Plan).
The announcement did not give any indication as to preferred suppliers (which is expected later in 2020) but commented: “This significant investment seeks to ensure Next Generation Access broadband services can be accessed by as many premises as possible across Northern Ireland…The UK Government has fully recognised that there are many rural areas across Northern Ireland where broadband access remains an issue…Within the Department we will continue to seek to maximise the industry contribution, over and above the current £165m public investment, to ensure as many premises as possible continue to benefit from the project.”