Digital divide narrows - but 56,000 Northern Ireland homes cannot get decent broadband

Some 56,000 homes and businesses in the north can't get basic broadband, according to Ofcom

THE number of homes and offices in Northern Ireland unable to get a decent broadband connection has fallen by 7,000 in the last year, Ofcom has found.

But its latest state-of-the-nation report disguises the fact that 56,000 premises still still cannot get the broadband speeds to meet their basic needs.

The regulator's Connected Nations 2017 report shows broadband remains worse in rural areas, where properties are often situated a long way from the telephone exchange or local street cabinet.

Around 23 per cent of rural premises in the north (53,000) are not getting basic broadband services (defined as least 10 megabits per second) compared to just one per cent in urban areas.

Local authorities that are more rural and with more dispersed properties have a higher number of premises that cannot access 10Mbit/s. While this still affects a significant number of properties, the number has reduced over the last year.

Nearly a quarter of premises (10,800) in the Fermanagh & Omagh Council area can't get a basic service. Mid Ulster (7,900) and Newry, Mourne & Down (7,900) also have significant numbers of premises that fall into this category.

Superfast broadband – defined by Ofcom as a download speed of 30Mbit/s or more – was available to 85 per cent of Northern Ireland homes and small businesses by May this year, up from 83 per cent a year earlier. But availability is lower in rural areas, where 57 per cent of premises have access to such a service.

Ofcom Northern Ireland director Jonathan Rose said: “Broadband coverage is improving, but our findings show there's still urgent work required before people and businesses get the services they need.

“We expect the picture to continue to improve on the back of a number of government funded UK-wide and regional initiatives that have and are being undertaken to improve broadband speeds, especially in rural areas.

“Everyone should have good access to the internet, wherever they live and work. So we are supporting plans for universal broadband, and promoting investment in full-fibre technology that can provide ultrafast, reliable connections.”

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