Homes and businesses in Belfast enjoy the best broadband coverage in the country

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New figures from Ofcom show that in January 155,838 properties – or 93% of land area – could access “superfast” broadband, with speeds of 300MB/s or more.

This means Belfast is one of just 24 local areas where 90% of properties can access superfast broadband. This represents an increase from 85% five years ago, in June 2017.

High-speed Internet is a key part of the government’s “upgrading” program. In its manifesto for the 2019 general election, the Conservative Party promised gigabit broadband – with download speeds of 1000MB/s – would be available across the country by 2025.

This target was later revised down to 85% by 2025, with full coverage by 2030. Coverage was not as good everywhere – the same data shows that across the country there was still thousands of homes and businesses below the minimum standard for “decent” broadband as of January.

Since March 2020, broadband providers have been bound by a “universal service obligation”, which means that everyone has the legal right to a “decent and affordable” connection.

This is defined as a download speed of at least 10MB/s and an upload speed of 1MB/s, for a maximum of £45 per month. If customers cannot access the internet at this speed, they can ask their local network provider to establish a connection – although internet providers are excused if the cost to them is more than £3,400.

While there were just seven properties below the ‘universal service obligation’ in Belfast, across the country there were around 81,500 that failed to meet it.

Ofcom said that while new fiber optic broadband has improved internet speeds for millions of people, some still risk being left behind.

A spokesperson explained: “Some households in hard-to-reach areas are still struggling to get decent broadband, so there is still work to be done to ensure these communities get the connections they need. “

Across Northern Ireland, 11,093 homes were below the minimum broadband speed standard – only Scotland had more.

Which?, the consumer champion, said the cost of living crisis has made the availability of reliable, low-cost broadband all the more necessary.

The organisation’s director of policy and advocacy, Rocio Concha, said: “Industry and government must work together, or risk undermining the UK’s aim to become a global leader in connectivity. “

Ofcom figures show 66% of the UK could get gigabit broadband in January.

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport added: “We have invested more money in rolling out broadband than any government in British history. Over 97% of UK premises can access superfast broadband, meeting people’s current needs, but we are determined to leave no one behind.

“Since the USO gave people the legal right to a decent internet connection two years ago, more than 89,000 premises have been upgraded.

“We are also prioritizing these hard-to-reach areas for ultra-fast gigabit broadband through our record-breaking £5 billion Gigabit project, with 600,000 premises already connected.”

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