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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
High-speed net plans launched
Ambitious broadband plans aim for 100% access within three years
All of Northern Ireland is expected to have access to broadband internet services within three years, NIO minister Ian Pearson has said.

The government has invited tenders to provide broadband throughout the province, as part of its telecommunications strategy.

At present, broadband services such as Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) or cable modem are only available in Belfast, Londonderry and a small number of rural cities and towns.

The government is making 16m in grants available to encourage BT and other telecommunications companies to make broadband more widely available.

Mr Pearson said on Tuesday that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment wanted to ensure "comprehensive and equitable provision of broadband services".

"This competition has been primarily designed to address this challenge in order to progress development of both our knowledge based economy and digital inclusion," he said.

24-hour internet connection
Video on demand
Fast interactive digital television
Fast interactive home shopping
Video e-mail
Video conferencing
Fast downloading of games, music and software
The announcement follows a prior information notice given in May to more than 40 interested parties for the opportunity to put forward their views to the department without committing themselves.

A shortlist of potential service providers will then be drawn up.

The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the announcement.

Vice chairman John Friel said they had been concerned about the lack of availability of broadband for small businesses in rural areas.

"Small businesses need to be aware of the many advantages that broadband can bring to them," he said.

"Broadband is also crucial in developing Northern Ireland's knowledge-based economy."

BBC NI business editor James Kerr
"The government is making 16m in grants available to encourage companies to promote broadband"

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