The UK Government’s ambition is to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible. The Department for the Economy (DfE) recognises that there is a need for Government intervention in the parts of Northern Ireland that are not commercially viable. The UK government has committed £5 billion for the hardest to reach parts of the country, ensuring that all areas of the UK can benefit. This will be spent through a package of coordinated and mutually supportive interventions, collectively known as Project Gigabit.
As part of this, DfE is working in partnership with Building Digital UK (BDUK), an Executive Agency within the Department for Innovation, Science and Technology, to develop a procurement approach for funding contracts to suppliers delivering gigabit-capable wholesale infrastructure. BDUK will be allocating the entire capital funding requirement for Project Gigabit NI, with DfE, as the Contracting Authority, managing local project delivery requirements. The procurement approach for Project Gigabit NI will be a successor to the transformational Superfast broadband programme, including Project Stratum.
Our goal is to ensure we target the parts of Northern Ireland that need Government support. A key step in this ambition is to identify areas which will be left out because they are not commercially viable.
In December 2022 DfE launched an Open Market Review (OMR) Request for Information (RFI) to establish existing and planned coverage of broadband services within the geographic area outlined in the PR documentation over the next three years (and beyond, if available). DfE sought responses from all existing and prospective broadband infrastructure suppliers that operate, or are planning to operate, within Northern Ireland.
DfE has assessed the industry’s responses to the OMR and is now conducting a Public Review (PR) to validate the results of the OMR, including seeking validation of the eligibility of the premises for subsidy. The Public Review seeks information about current broadband network coverage and any future plans to roll out broadband infrastructure, particularly within the next three years. The PR will be open for feedback from any interested stakeholders and will run for one calendar month. When completed, DfE will confirm the eligibility of the premises for procurement(s) and will publish an Outcome Report outlining postcode level maps of the final Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) which have been designated as ‘white’ and eligible for subsidy under the Gigabit Infrastructure Subsidy scheme.
DfE has published a Request for Information that can be read on DfE’s website at www.economy-ni.gov.uk and is also providing an online address checking facility to allow the public, business and anyone interested in the Public Review to see how DfE has currently categorised addresses, as well as contact details to provide feedback to DfE.
The outcome of the Public Review will inform the procurement(s) that DfE will take forward and further information will be made available on the DfE website in the coming months following the conclusion of this Public Review.