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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December 2004, 09:08 GMT
Huge rise in broadband uptake
James Kerr
BBC Northern Ireland business correspondent

High speed internet access is catching on in Northern Ireland, and quickly, according to figures just released by the government.

Between those of us who have broadband at home and local businesses, there are now 125,000 broadband subscribers. That is 200% up on 12 months ago.

Web user (Courtesy Vismedia)
Fast net access is changing the way people consume music
The rapid spread of broadband availability is partly the result of an EU subsidised contract between BT and the government.

This commits the telecoms company to make the service available in all homes by the end of next year.

Frank McManus from BT, who is responsible for making it happen, said that a year ago 72 exchanges were broadband enabled, covering 50% of the population.

"Now we have 168 done and only another 23 left to do. That will be completed by the end of February, at which point we will have 98% of the population in a position to receive broadband," he said.

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"That puts us ahead of Scotland and Wales and most European countries."

There are some concerns that many businesses don't have an internet presence at all, never mind broadband, but many of those those that have adopted the technology argue that it has been beneficial to business.

One such business is the Belmore Court Motel in Enniskillen, where management installed broadband last year.

RJ45 cables
With always-on internet access we can respond instantly to e-mails from customers
Terry McCartney
Belmore Court Motel

According to the owner, Terry McCartney, the impact has been noticed on the bottom line.

"With always-on internet access we can respond instantly to e-mails from customers," he said.

"That gives us a better chance of winning the business, as they have probably contacted three or four hotels."

The importance of broadband is not the technology itself, but what it enables people to do.

It's not just businesses that stand to benefit - it's likely to prompt a revolution throughout the communications industry.

According to Peter Johnston, the Head of Broadcast at BBC Northern Ireland, it is all about content; the material that organisations such as the BBC put on the web.

"Broadband allows people to become involved in accessing content when and how they want, and it allows us to make our archives available in a completely new way," he said.

The availability of broadband has been likened to the spread of electricity; first it just provided light, but gradually it became central to the way people live their lives.

High speed internet access will soon be available everywhere, and as access spreads so, too, the price will continue to fall.

All the time, new ways of putting the technology to work will also come on line.




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