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Assembly committee urges separate IP address for north

Northern web users attempting to access RTÉ online have been redirected to an international version of the RTÉ Player
John Monaghan

A Stormont committee has written to a European body to request a separate 'IP address' for Northern Ireland, allowing greater access to online content from RTÉ.

At present RTÉ and TG4 programmes can be blocked for northern web users whose devices are often linked to locations in England.

Sinn Féin MLA Phil Flanagan, deputy chair of the enterprise, trade and investment committee, said a briefing document from Ofcom presented to members at the start of the summer suggested exploring the possibility of securing a separate IP address.

It comes days after RTÉ pledged to "explore" why northern viewers attempting to access the RTÉ Player were being directed to the international version of the app and asked to pay a €120 subscription.

IP (internet protocol) addresses are numbers used to identify and locate computers or devices involved in online traffic.

Mr Flanagan said: "We have agreed to write to the European Regional Internet Registry to request a block of IP addresses for the north. It would help with the unique circumstances we have in which people can get both RTÉ and BBC.

"No other region in Europe has this complex situation. It makes for more sense. The IP address for here is coming up as some obscure part of England."

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said the proposal received cross-party support from the 11 MLAs on the committee.

He added: "I don’t think there would be a huge cost to it. The ISPs (internet service providers) servicing here are not that interested because they are based in Britain."

The report from Ofcom on the availability of RTE and TG4 states that "there may be a legitimate expectation" that online content should be available to internet users in the north.

However, the communications regulator appears to pour cold water on the likelihood of a separate IP address for the north, and whether such a service would always be accurate.

It said: "It would be technically possible for ISPs to ring-fence a set of their IP addresses and allocate them only to customers in Northern Ireland.

"However, such a process could be an inefficient way for ISPs to manage what is a finite resource and would be costly to implement. As such it would remain a commercial decision for each ISP."

The Ofcom report added: "In a world where IP addresses are becoming increasingly dynamic and shared by multiple users... using an IP address as a proxy for location will become increasingly inaccurate."

It is hoped that a response to the request will be available when the committee meets again next month.

Mr Flanagan said: "It may be that this needs the approval of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in London. We need to explore it further and see how it would work."

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