HC Deb 03 December 2003 vol 415 cc493-4
4. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab)

What plans he has to encourage the take-up of broadband services in Northern Ireland. [141217]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson)

Invest Northern Ireland is currently undertaking a major programme to encourage the take-up of broadband services by small and medium-sized businesses, including the provision of both practical advice and financial support to businesses.

Judy Mallaber

Getting businesses to take up broadband is extremely important, but at the moment, while 22 per cent. of businesses in the UK have taken it up, the figure is only 12 per cent. in Northern Ireland. Will my hon. Friend explain exactly how he intends to raise that figure to the welcome target of 20 per cent. by 2005?

Mr. Pearson

My hon. Friend takes a keen interest in telecommunications issues, and is right that at the moment we lag behind the rest of the UK in broadband take-up. We have a clear strategy on take-up, and there is a financial package that provides up to £5,000 of installation and first-year running costs to businesses. We have a major programme of awareness events to promote broadband, and we currently have a tender to ensure that we improve access to broadband. At the moment, only 65 per cent. of companies have access to broadband, which is a significant problem, but we are sorting it out.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim) (UUP)

Is the Minister in a position as yet to indicate who will be the successful tenderer to provide broadband internet services across Northern Ireland? Does he agree that the talent and ability of locally based companies in Northern Ireland should be harnessed by the successful bidder so that broadband is rolled out, and so that all our councillors, for example, can be contacted by e-mail and so on at their local councils?

Mr. Pearson

I obviously cannot disclose the results of the tender exercise, which is still in its final stages. We hope to be able to make an announcement shortly, when the evaluations have taken place. Obviously, we are bound by EU procurement rules, but I am keen to encourage and support Northern Ireland indigenous businesses. A number of them already provide broadband services across the region, and as a Government, we are certainly committed to providing support to them as they go forward.

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