The Department for the Economy (DfE) has launched a procurement for Project Stratum, its £165million broadband roll-out scheme. The project, funded from the Confidence and Supply Agreement, seeks to improve connectivity for those unable to access broadband services of at least 30 Mbps.
It is anticipated that circa 98,000 premises, primarily in rural areas, are eligible for potential intervention as Project Stratum rolls out. The intervention area has been determined following an Open Market Review (OMR) exercise carried out through June and July 2018, followed by the OMR State aid public consultation, which ran from 3 December 2018 to 14 January 2019. The Department is finalising its response to the public consultation through the State aid team within the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and, subject to final approval, anticipates publication later this summer.
Announcing the launch of the procurement, Permanent Secretary Noel Lavery said: “The additional £150million broadband funding allows us to build on the broadband connectivity achievements to date, given that some 108,000 premises have benefitted from recent interventions. I do recognise, however, that there remain many rural areas across Northern Ireland where broadband access remains unsatisfactory and that this is continuing to have an impact on citizens and businesses within our rural communities. The roll-out of Project Stratum, including additional assistance of £15million from the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, will help ensure that more people than ever in rural areas have access to good quality broadband.”
Mr Lavery continued: "All the premises eligible for inclusion in Project Stratum will be published soon, however the precise number and location of those that will benefit from the project will not be known until the procurement process is complete and a contract has been awarded. My Department will seek to maximise any industry contribution, over and above the £165million public investment, to ensure that as many premises as possible benefit from the project.
“As Project Stratum aims to address the harder-to-reach, and therefore most costly, premises, it is unlikely that we will be able to provide a solution for the full intervention area with the available funding, which is one of the reasons why industry contribution will be vital. The Department continues to engage with DCMS and Local Authorities to ensure that Northern Ireland benefits from national programmes, aimed at addressing the most remote rural premises, in line with UK Government policy emerging from the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review.”
Commenting on the Confidence and Supply investment, DCMS Digital Minister Margot James added: "The government is investing in our digital infrastructure to make sure that we have a UK that is fit for the future. We want all parts of the UK to be able to access superfast broadband and this investment of £150million will be a huge boost to individuals and businesses in Northern Ireland."
Suppliers that wish to take part in the procurement process can access information on the eTendersNI portal and have until 3 pm on 21 August 2019 to return a selection questionnaire.
Notes to editors:
- The Confidence and Supply Agreement between the DUP and the Conservative Party was announced in June 2017.
- The UK Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review was published in July 2018.
- Project Stratum is aligned to objectives of the NI Executive’s draft Programme for Government 2016-21 and Economy 2030 – Industrial Strategy.
- The procurement exercise is being managed through the Department of Finance's Construction and Procurement Delivery (CPD)
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