Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Jonathan Bell, discussed his department’s strategy for ensuring rural areas receive a broadband service during today’s Question Time. A £23.6m contract was awarded to BT in February 2014 for the Northern Ireland Broadband Improvement Project (NIBIP) aimed at bringing more choice and higher broadband speeds to all areas of the country. The target for completion is the end of 2015. Recognising that NIBIP will not be able to deliver superfast broadband speeds to all areas, BT were also awarded a £17.1m contract for the superfast rollout programme which should bring superfast broadband services to a further 38000 homes in Northern Ireland. This project will not be completed until 2017 and it is too early to tell which areas will benefit from the upgrades. The Minister assured Barry McElduff MLA that he is doing the utmost to improve the service in West Tyrone where customers are growing frustrated and businesses feel that they are working at a disadvantage. Those affected can use a postcode checker on the NI Direct website to find out when improvements are coming to their area.
The Minister also described his efforts to promote the Causeway coast and glens as a key tourist destination. £13.4m has been invested in the area in the last five years to boost visitor infrastructure and tourism potential. The Causeway coastal route has been the focus of several advertising campaigns on both sides of the border. As well as the traditional attractions such as the Giants Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, new products such as Gobbins cliff path and ‘Game of Thrones’ filming locations have helped boost visitor interest in the area. When sporting events such as the North West 200 and Giro d’Italia are included, the Causeway coast has become one of the key areas of tourism in Northern Ireland.
During Question Time Mr Bell also answered questions on jobs created by Invest NI, a proposed border development zone, employment in Newry and the new jobs created at Denroy Plastics in Bangor.