Fermanagh and Omagh ranked worst for digital connectivity

Project Stratum is already connecting tens of thousands of premises to full fibre broadband for the first time.

THE Fermanagh and Omagh district has topped a table ranking areas of the UK with the worst digital connectivity, but the broadband map is rapidly changing in the north.

The research using the latest data from Ofcom and the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) found 31.1 per cent of premises in the council area unable to access superfast broadband, the highest in the UK.

N.Rich, which collated the information, said official data suggests one-in-eight people (12.5 per cent) in the Fermanagh and Omagh area had not used the internet in the past three months.

The data company said it based its findings on the combination of superfast broadband access and the percentage of people who had been offline for the past 90 days.

Half the table comprising the UK’s least connected regions was made up of council districts in Northern Ireland. Mid Ulster ranked as third worst; with Causeway Coast and Glens at five; ahead of Newry, Mourne and Down (seven); and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon (nine).

According to the research, 17.8 per cent of people in Mid Ulster have not used the internet in the past three months, the highest in the north and well above the UK average of seven per cent.

But the make-up of that top ten table will soon be radically transformed in the wake of the fast moving Project Stratum.

Fibrus was awarded the £165 million contract by Stormont earlier this year to connect around 76,000 rural premises to full fibre broadband. An additional £25m was allocated by London last month, which will expand the scheme further.

The company said it will also invest tens of millions of pounds itself with the goal of bringing gigabyte capable fibre broadband to 100,000 by the end of 2021.

Fibrus said it passed the 58,000-mark last month.

Project Stratum is set to deploy in the Enniskillen area this autumn, but the more rural parts of Fermanagh and Omagh may have to wait until 2022 and 2023.

Fibrus has indicated that work in Omagh and surrounding towns and villages should begin over the spring and summer of 2022.

Most of south Tyrone, the Clogher Valley and the eastern and northern parts of Fermanagh will be targeted in the autumn of 2022

But the most rural parts of south west Fermanagh and north Tyrone may have to wait another two years.

Openreach is also rolling out a programme to bring full fibre to more than 400,000 premises.

Urban areas of the north are already well served when it comes to superfast broadband, but

With rural areas now catching up with the north's well connected urban hubs, telecoms expert Thomas O’Hagan from the b4b Group in Belfast said: “Such is the scale of the rollout, Northern Ireland is on course to be the first region in either Ireland or the UK to achieve close to 100 per cent coverage of full fibre broadband.”

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