N. Ireland Sets Lofty Broadband Goal

Northern Ireland has it sights on an ambitious plan to make affordable broadband Internet access available to all of its 1.7 million residents by the end of 2005.

The rollout will be paid for by the country’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and is designed to boost the region’s economy.

British Telecom has been awarded the contract to extend broadband
infrastructure to rural areas that aren’t currently served.

John Haran, a senior vice president with Invest Northern Ireland, an
economic development agency, said today’s announcement is part of a plan envisioned several years ago.

“We realized we needed to provide top-quality voice and data networks to compete and get investment from the U.S. and elsewhere,” Haran told internetnews.com. “So we have several backbones running through Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland has successfully positioned itself as a base for U.S. companies to reach European markets as well as an IT outsourcing hub. Hooking up areas outside of Belfast and other cities could also be a boon to local startups and distance learning programs.

Financial terms of the deal, which includes digital subscriber line and wireless technologies, weren’t disclosed. Pricing for the service, which will be available from a variety of service providers, has not been set.

According to Mason Communications, an independent European telecom
consultancy, Northern Ireland’s timeline is the most aggressive in Europe.

The announcement comes two weeks after President Bush set a goal of broadband access for all Americans by the end of 2007. Bush, who mentioned the goal in a campaign speech, didn’t offer specifics about the costs to taxpayers or the technologies that would be involved.

The U.S. situation is considerably more complicated because of the size of the country, the variety of competing technologies and service providers and the thicket of telecom and antitrust regulations. U.S. IT organizations are generally supportive of Bush’s goal, but a workable plan has yet to emerge.

A BT spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

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