South Down SDLP MLA Colin McGrath has backed the Federation of Small Businesses call for improved broadband coverage in Northern Ireland.
Mr McGrath said: “A good quality rural broadband is a must for local rural business and also a necessity for families that live in the rural areas.
“We want to promote rural living and this way of live and to encourage as many small and medium business that are suitable for the countryside to set up. Agricultural businesses need to grow and diversify also. Having appropriate internet connections is a must for this to progress.
“Whilst I accept and appreciate that BT have done some work to roll out rural broadband connections they haven’t done enough and I know of many constituents who are unable to access suitable broadband speeds.
“I have previously raised this with the Minister for the Economy and also directly with Openreach who are acting on behalf of BT in this matter, but there is much work to be done and they need to act faster to spread broadband out further and not allow it to be the preserve of the urban dweller.”
The FSB has called on OfCom to address ‘abysmal broadband and mobile coverage in Northern Ireland’ which is hiting rural dwellers and local businesses.
Despite investing substantial sums to boost the speed of broadband, small businesses in Northern Ireland are still receiving as little as 0.95Mbps download speeds with upload speeds recorded at an abysmal 0.40Mbps, according to new service readings presented by FSB members.
These speeds, which prevent many of the most basic online tasks beyond browsing, fall far below the UK average download speed of 28Mbps, stated within OfCom’s Connected Nations Report for 2015.
In its response to OfCom’s Proposed Annual Plan for 2017 to 2018, which closed today, FSB highlighted to the Communications Regulator that local small businesses are being disproportionately impacted by poor broadband and mobile coverage in comparison to the rest of the UK.
Evidenced in OfCom’s own figures, released in December 2016; only 52% of rural premises in Northern Ireland are receiving superfast broadband. Of the 63,000 premises that cannot get a download speed reaching 10Mbit/s, 94% of these are located in rural areas. On average, broadband speeds for rural businesses are half of those achieved in urban areas.
Mr Wilfred Mitchell OBE, FSB Northern Ireland Policy Chair said:“The FSB recognises that connectivity is increasingly important for UK businesses. Our research shows nearly all (94 per cent) of small business owners rate a reliable broadband connection as critical to the success of their business.
“The rural population in Northern Ireland is more evenly spread than the rest of the UK, meaning that there is a disproportionate effect as fewer local small businesses are able to have the same access to improve efficiency and make savings through broadband connectivity in comparison to their competitors based in more urban areas or throughout the rest of the UK.
He added: “We are calling on OfCom to exercise their statutory powers under the Communications Act 2003 to ensure that mandatory rural mobile and broadband coverage be written into regulatory rules for suppliers as well as ensuring greater transparency in the information around cost and coverage, to include advertising minimum as well as maximum speeds that can be expected by the customer.”