Since June 2018, Councils in Northern Ireland have worked closely together to create and build the Full Fibre Northern Ireland Consortium (FFNI).
The Consortium is made up of all ten councils in Northern Ireland outside of Belfast and hosted by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
FFNI’s aim is to expand the high-speed fibre broadband footprint across the region to ensure Northern Ireland has available and affordable connectivity to support future growth and prosperity.
FFNI secured £15m of Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) funding in March 2019 from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The procurement of the fibre infrastructure is currently under way to identify the preferred bidders for the LFFN and RGC projects by mid-June 2020.
The funding will be used to install ultrafast fibre ‘gigabit capable’ broadband to public sector buildings across Northern Ireland. Connecting these public-sector sites is likely to make it easier for suppliers to make full fibre available to nearby business and domestic premises. The project will transform connectivity for almost 1000 public sector sites and deliver a major increase in GVA across the region through improved connectivity.
Currently around 44% of premises in Northern Ireland have access to full fibre connectivity; outside of the major conurbations the figure is much lower. With responsibility for promoting economic development, and local knowledge, the councils within the FFNI Consortium are well positioned to drive fibre infrastructure in areas where it is most needed.
The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council Councillor Sean Bateson commented: “Our residents and local businesses depend on us to deliver high quality public services and having connectivity is essential to that. The Public sector has to keep pace with what technology can offer local communities and not be left behind by other regions who recognise the value of full fibre broadband.
“This funding is essential for developing important telecoms infrastructure and full fibre is expected to provide improved digital connectivity and unlock considerable economic value across the district.”
The UK Government’s Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Matt Warman, said, “We are taking the next step in our plans to futureproof Northern Ireland’s broadband for a generation.
“This £15 million investment from the UK government will boost public services and buildings with gigabit broadband and encourage suppliers to improve connections to nearby homes and businesses in the process.
“Across the UK we are also investing £5 billion to make sure hard-to-reach areas are not left behind.”
The FFNI Consortium believes that the future of telecommunications infrastructure in Northern Ireland is vital to economic growth, and full fibre connectivity is the key to ensuring high-speed connectivity for current and future generations. This award will allow the 10 local authorities within FFNI to future proof their network connectivity requirements for the next 20 to 25 years.
The importance of connectivity and high bandwidth has been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic which has pushed us further into a digital world with businesses forced to work online through video conferencing and school children learning over virtual classrooms. These changes in behaviour are likely to have lasting effects when the economy starts to pick up and the roll out of Ultrafast fibre will help to ensure that internet connectivity is resilient enough for future demands.
Ultrafast broadband is the next generation of connectivity, capable of delivering download speeds of 1 Gigabit (Gb) or 1000 Megabits (Mb) per second using pure optical fibre.