DUP leader Arlene Foster has said Fermanagh will benefit from the highest percentage of investment as a result of Project Stratum.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced today (Wendesday) the contract for the delivery of Project Stratum has been awarded to Fibrus Networks Ltd.

Project Stratum represents a £150million investment by the UK government, allocated to the Department for the Economy as part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement, alongside £15million by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, as well as a substantial investment by Fibrus in network build costs. The project aims to bring next generation broadband services to premises across Northern Ireland currently unable to access speeds of 30 megabits per second or greater.

Commenting on this significant milestone, the Minister said: “After a competitive and very robust procurement process, I am pleased to announce that the contract has been awarded to Fibrus. This announcement means that we are one step closer to bringing next generation broadband services to those businesses and people who need it most. Fibrus proposes a full fibre solution, capable of offering speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to almost 97 per cent of premises in the target intervention area. Deployment of the new infrastructure is expected to commence immediately and implementation will run until March 2024.

“While always recognised as important, the pandemic and restrictions we have all had to live under have underscored the importance of broadband connectivity. Project Stratum will transform the broadband connectivity landscape for many of our citizens and businesses across primarily rural areas of Northern Ireland.”

Welcoming the award of the contract and the opportunity to work with the Department to deliver this much needed improvement to broadband access for rural communities, Fibrus Chair Conal Henry commented: “This investment partnership with the NI Executive positions Northern Ireland as a digital global leader. Full fibre broadband is key to unlocking the full economic and social potential of our rural communities and is as vital a part of our 21st century infrastructure as power, water or transport. This investment enables towns, villages and rural communities to change the narrative, keep people and communities connected and facilitate the increasing demand for working and studying at home. The benefits of full fibre broadband are more relevant now in a Covid context than ever before."

In recognising the importance of Project Stratum to rural communities, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs committed early on to contributing £15million to the project. Commenting today on the award of contract, Minister Edwin Poots said: “As a rural dweller I’m aware of the issues and disadvantages faced with low or poor broadband speeds. This has further been demonstrated during the current Covid crisis where rural businesses, schools and dwellers are even more dependent on good quality broadband coverage to stay connected with friends, family and employers.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster has said Project Stratum contract award is an example of DUP delivery for everyone in Northern Ireland that will help heal a digital divide in Northern Ireland.

She said, “The £150million investment into rural broadband is a direct result of the Democratic Unionist Party using its influence at Westminster to deliver for everyone.

"Access to broadband was identified by the Party as a key priority for Northern Ireland in 2017 when we negotiated the Confidence and Supply Agreement. Certainly in Fermanagh and South Tyrone it is a key concern. Fermanagh and South Tyrone is one of the top three worst regions for broadband speeds in the UK and that needs to be addressed.

"Whilst there is a need for access to broadband across all areas of Northern Ireland, it is particularly acute in rural communities where many people suffer low speeds or an inability to access broadband altogether. This investment secured by the DUP will help to heal that digital divide in Northern Ireland.

"The importance of good quality broadband has been underscored in recent months with many more people needing online access for remote working and learning. With speeds of up to one gigabit per second being delivered to nearly all premises within the target areas it will ensure that Northern Ireland can be on the cutting edge in terms of online access.”

Sinn Féin MLA Jemma Dolan welcomed the announcement that the contract for Project Stratum has been awarded to Fibrus Networks Ltd.

“Today’s announcement is a significant step forward for rural communities who over the years have been disadvantaged and left isolated without access to decent or in some cases any broadband.

“With many more people now studying and working from home, access to broadband has never been more important, it is a vital service.

“It is important that rural workers, families and businesses can benefit from this project as quickly as possible and I welcome that Fibrus intends to roll out infrastructure immediately following the contract being awarded.”