An event has taken place at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry to celebrate the success of the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) and Rural Gigabit Connectivity (RGC) projects, funded by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The event, which took place on Wednesday 16 November, marks the completion of one of the largest broadband initiatives delivered by multiple public sector organisations across Northern Ireland as part of the UK Government’s Levelling Up strategy.
The initiative was delivered by the Full Fibre Northern Ireland (FFNI) Consortium, which is made up of ten councils outside Belfast and the Business Services Organisation (BSO), and led by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. The Consortium, having successfully secured
£23.1million of UK Government funding from DCMS in 2018, rolled out this ambitious project with the aim of expanding the high-speed fibre broadband footprint in Northern Ireland.
Now completed, the project has connected 887 public sector buildings to high-speed ‘gigabit capable’ broadband throughout Northern Ireland. This includes over 240 GP surgeries, 148 community centres, 90 council offices, 79 recycling centres, 69 fire stations and 63 leisure centres. These sites now have the infrastructure to access internet speeds at least ten times faster than their old, mostly copper-based connections. As requirements increase in the future, they will be able to tap into gigabit capable speeds of 1,000 megabits per second and above.
Speaking at the event, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Michael Savage said, “FFNI is essentially an Economic Development and Regeneration project and this multi-million-pound investment will assist those at risk of digital exclusion, create local jobs and allow public sector partners to offer more digital services to businesses and residents across the district.
“The collaboration between public-sector bodies through FFNI has played a key role in supporting digital ambitions, which will empower our local communities and businesses to bounce back from the pandemic and the positive impact will be even more far reaching for years to come.”
UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said, “Thanks to the UK Government’s investment, Northern Ireland continues to lead gigabit broadband connectivity levels across the four nations. More than four in five homes in the country now have access to the fastest and most reliable broadband on the market.
“These lightning-fast connections will help improve public services and benefit businesses and communities from Larne to Lisnaskea. Through our record £5 billion Project Gigabit investment programme, we are also making sure people living and working in rural areas can access the top-of-the-range connection speeds.”
Project build partner and local full fibre broadband provider Fibrus supported the rollout of LFFN and RGC on behalf of FFNI. Chief Operating Officer Shane Haslem explained how the company is “committed to enabling local communities”. He said, “Despite being hubs for local businesses and family homes, rural areas across Northern Ireland have gone without quality connectivity services for too long. With the pandemic accelerating society’s need for meaningful online connections coupled with a shift in working patterns to a hybrid model, access to high-speed reliable broadband has become critical for homes, businesses and our public services.
“The arrival of full fibre broadband across 887 public buildings will help address regional and digital imbalance, revolutionising how the public sector operates on a daily basis. This will ultimately benefit the people of Northern Ireland by allowing them to access quality services in the heart of their own community.”
By connecting these public sector sites, it enables additional connections to be made to nearby residential and commercial properties through separate commercial investment plans and allows communication providers to extend the rollout of gigabit capable connectivity. Such connections will facilitate digital transformation and create enhanced social and economic opportunities, which will transform the lives of Northern Ireland’s rural communities.
The committed efforts of the FFNI Consortium and its component councils and public sector partners, together with the significant investment from DCMS and Fibrus will help to make a tangible difference not only to the public sector, but also to the lives of families, people, communities and businesses right across Northern Ireland.