17 May 2022

Broadband funding clawback should plug Project Stratum gaps, says councillor

Mid Ulster District Council discussed the issue last week.

Broadband funding clawback should plug Project Stratum gaps, says councillor

A County Derry councillor has called for government money clawed back from a broadband provider from two earlier schemes to be spent plugging gaps left by the Project Stratum roll out.

Last week, the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) published a report into the 2016 NI Broadband Investment Programme (BIP) and the 2018 Superfast Rollout Programme (SRP).

The programmes, provided by BT, received over £35 million of public funding, but research from the Irish Central Border Area Network (ICBAN) has prompted an investigation into their delivery.

The NIAO report indicated the public purse would be able to claw back funding if the provider had spent less than expected, or if more customers took up the service than had been estimated.

Research undertaken for the report has shown the BIP scheme had an uptake of 66%, while the SRP currently has an uptake of 33%, a figure expected to rise further.

An anticipated claw back of between £14 million and £35 million is indicated by the report.

Mid Ulster District Councillor Sean McPeake said any money clawed back as a result of the report should be used to address the shortcomings in the Project Stratum scheme within the council area.

“I am calling on government to ensure that any monies recovered from BT as a consequence of this NIAO report are re-directed into areas such as Mid-Ulster with the worst broadband speeds,” he said.

“Areas where we already know will still have premises that are not planned to be within the reach of the forthcoming Project Stratum and which will require additional financial interventions.

“I believe it is only right and fitting that any clawback received should be directed towards broadband provision to these areas.

“High speed broadband is every bit as essential as other utilities such as water or electricity and needs to be made readily available to everyone regardless of whether they live in an urban or rural area.”

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