Business

Fibre broadband roll-out 'could benefit rural economy by £1.2 billion'

BT engineers work at a rural fibre cabinet. Photo: Darren Kidd/PressEye

THE economic, social and environmental benefits of the government's proposed £150m investment in ultra-fast fibre broadband in rural areas of Northern Ireland has been estimated at £1.2 billion.

An independent report commissioned by BT and undertaken by economic consultancy DotEcon to assesses the potential benefits from an investment focused in rural areas and estimates that, for every £1 spent, there would be a benefit of around £8 to the region's economy over 15 years.

And the key beneficiaries would be the Fermanagh & Omagh District and Mid-Ulster District Council areas, currently the most disadvantaged in terms of high-speed broadband availability in Northern Ireland.

Authors of the assessment suggest investing in ultra-fast broadband would help to realise several of the goals set out in the Department for the Economy’s Industrial Strategy for Northern Ireland, which include reducing economic inactivity, improving collaboration, increasing global competitiveness and supporting digital intensive sectors.

The report found that increased employment would be the largest source of benefit, amounting to £890 million by 2033, or about £6 for every £1 invested.

The expansion of ultra-fast fibre broadband in rural areas could also lead to carbon abatement through home or teleworking, e-commerce and the use of cloud computing, while fibre broadband would also facilitate digital inclusion, improving rural communities’ access to public services.

Report author Dr Dan Maldoom said: “Despite the challenges of broadband delivery in more rural areas of Northern Ireland, high speed fibre broadband is vital to the economic, environmental and even social wellbeing.

“This report highlights the potential economic return of the government’s £150m investment in rural areas, together with other key benefits to communities across Northern Ireland, such as a reduction in carbon emissions, enhanced digital inclusion and wider access to e-health.”

Mairead Meyer, managing director of Northern Ireland Networks at BT, said: "We welcome the proposed investment and expansion of fibre broadband across Northern Ireland.

"We await the publication of government plans for the proposed investment and acknowledge that, once they are announced, there will be a public and competitive procurement process.

"However, we wanted to investigate and share the economic impact such an investment would have, particularly within challenging, harder to reach rural areas across Northern Ireland.

"This report highlights the huge potential of an expansion of ultrafast fibre broadband in rural areas and how it could open a wealth of opportunities, future-proofing our infrastructure and enabling Northern Ireland to compete alongside the best fibre networks in Europe."

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