Some rural residents of Northern Ireland suffering from poor internet access have been told they are not eligible to do so a £ 165 million ultra-broadband scheme.
This is despite the fact that the new fiber cables run through their homes.
Project Stratum promises to deliver full-fiber broadband speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second to 76,000 rural properties.
It is part of a major investment managed by the Department of Economy.
Those residing in an area where a broadband service with a speed of 30 Mbps is already available or is expected to be available soon are excluded from the scheme.
Some residents who say their connection is much slower told BBC News NI that they have been unfairly excluded.
Gabriel O’Connor’s family lives five miles from Belleek in County Fermanagh.
He said it can be “really frustrating” to access the Internet.
When he entered his address in an online eligibility check, said he was “dismayed” to discover that he was not included in the Stratum Project even though the cable will run through his home.
“We have always struggled to get an internet connection in this area,” he said.
“In the past I had radio broadband, then I switched to satellite broadband, then I switched to Wi-Fi broadband and in the last year I have been able to actually connect to the internet through my phone line, but I only have one connection speed of 7 Mb per second.
“This new service promised up to one gigabit, 1,000 Mb, as you can see I’m about seven at the moment, so if I could get 30 I’d be more than happy, that’s four times what I have per minute.”
He said some of his neighbors have also been told they are excluded, while some abandoned buildings in the area are currently included in the project.
“I know there were a few houses where I know people clamoring for a decent broadband connection were excluded, yet in some cases they were going all out hundreds of meters down the lane to an abandoned house in which no one has been to for 25 or 30 years. “
He emailed the Department of Economics unsuccessfully challenging the eligibility criteria used for his property.
It’s the same story for his cousin, Cathal O’Connor, who lives further down the road.
A small antenna on the roof provides wireless internet service, but connection speeds can be slow, especially when your family uses multiple devices.
He also hoped to benefit from what he says is a “fantastic project”, but is concerned that some people will be excluded from this “very essential service”, especially children who need to study remotely.
“I was quite surprised to see that our home was not eligible for this new hyper-fast broadband service, but I was even more surprised when I found that my father’s house right next door was eligible for the service.
“It is very disappointing to see that when you have a service that literally passes under your house you cannot access it and I think it is not a rare story among rural communities where some families seem to be excluded from this project.”
The Department of Economics told BBC News NI that Project Stratum was a “transformation project”.
As a result, more than 99% of all locations in County Fermanagh and Omagh, County Tyrone, will have access to Next Generation Access (NGA) broadband, capable of delivering speeds of 30 Mbps or more.
He said the premises were considered eligible for public intervention under the Stratum project if current or planned broadband services were unable to deliver speeds of 30 Mbps or higher.
Information on connection speeds was provided by network operators and some venues were kept “under scrutiny” to “test the robustness of claimed NGA broadband services”.
The review is being completed by independent telecommunications consultants.
If they are unable to receive such services, the department “will consider including these premises in existing or future public intervention plans, subject to funding considerations.”
If someone has already benefited from public funding, such as a better broadband voucher, they are not even eligible under state aid rules, he said.
As for the abandoned properties, the department said these premises will be “de-scoped” during the deployment phase to ensure public funds are appropriately allocated.
Fibrus, the contractor to supply Project Stratum, is currently installing fiber broadband cables in County Fermanagh.
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Premises not currently included in the Project Stratum can be considered for connection during the implementation of the network if the infrastructure passes nearby and is considered commercially viable by the contractor.
But Mr. O’Connor said Fibrus told him there was “no network infrastructure capability” to connect his home, even though the closest pole carrying the cable is only 25 meters away.
“I noticed that all the villages are offered the connection where they already had what is considered to be broadband, but they don’t seem to have the infrastructure to connect me, which seems a bit strange.
“The Stratum project costs the public 165 million pounds, that’s a lot of money.
“I think it should provide the service to the people who need it most.”
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