Almost 200 complaints of inadequate or non-existent broadband coverage in Newry and Armagh have been raised during a face-to-face meeting with BT bosses.
And officials have been told that a multi-million pound planned investment in infrastructure should not begin in Belfast but start in border areas along south Armagh – working its way back to the larger urban areas.
Lengthy discussions on the situation locally – which had been branded “unacceptable” – were held with Newry and Armagh SDLP MLA Justin McNulty.
“Broadband services, or the lack of them, are a major issue for many people across Newry and Armagh,” he said afterwards.
“Every day I am passing individual cases through to BT on behalf of constituents. We make progress but in many areas BT respond saying they have no planned activity in specific rural areas.
“This is infuriating for people who see the BT van at the end of their road on an almost daily basis and yet they get no improvement in services.
“BT are responsible for the telecommunications network, no matter who your broadband provider is.
“People are paying large amounts on a monthly basis and have little or no service.
“During our meeting we discussed close on 200 individual cases of constituents who have contacted me regarding their service. BT have committed to responding to those cases on a case by case basis.”
Mr McNulty said the meeting also included discussions on the “much-lauded £150 million investment” announced by Government in June.
“I have expressed my fears that this money will be spent on upgrading areas which have only recently benefited from investment rather than in areas where people are struggling to get any service at all,” added the MLA.
“At present there are over 100,000 properties across the North with little or no service. In this technological era, this is completely unacceptable.
“I pressed BT on the need for a new approach to its investment in infrastructure this time. Instead of investing in Belfast and its urban hinterland, this time BT should start at the digital black-spot which is right along the border region and work their way back to big urban areas.
“This investment in broadband must be future-proof, and if it’s done right it will save going back time and time again.
“BT and Government must prioritise investment in rural areas. It makes sense, it would boost the rural economy, help sustain rural communities and would mean we no longer have a digital divide.”