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New Belfast 5G ‘widens digital divide’ as rural Newry and Armagh ‘don’t even have basic broadband’

'It is degrading our economy, our communities and providing further incentive for young people to leave our shores'

The introduction of the latest 5G technology in Belfast will be met with little by the way of fanfare in border areas.

That was the reaction to the launch of EE’s major technology upgrade, as it is rolled out in Belfast, from one local MLA.

The SDLP’s Justin McNulty said people in Newry and Armagh will take “little comfort” from the brand new 5G service when “rural communities don’t even have a basic broadband service”.

EE – a subsidiary of BT – is rolling out 5G across six cities – Belfast, Cardiff, Manchester, Edinburgh, London and and Birmingham.

It was launched on Thursday with the promise of more cities to be added.

But Mr McNulty said it meant little to local people.

He said: “The initial rollout of a 5G network is great if you’re based in Belfast, where you’re likely to already benefit from superfast broadband speeds and access to reliable data packages.

“But the fanfare and celebrations that have greeted this rollout mean little to the rural and border communities of Newry, Armagh and south Armagh, who still struggle to access basic broadband speeds.

“The digital deficit across the North doesn’t just mean people in rural towns can’t access Netflix. Students cannot study, and I include primary school children in that.

“Rural businesses struggle to access online banking, make digital tax returns or offer the online presence that modern consumers expect as a norm.  In today’s society everything from shopping and banking, to social interaction is all digital and online, so a decent broadband service is a must.

“Rural communities cannot continue to suffer as a consequence of this digital divide.

“Whilst those in Belfast have the comfort of considering which is the best package in terms of speed and value, rural communities are at the least deserving of a decent internet connection.

“It is degrading our economy, our communities and providing further incentive for young people to leave our shores.

“The Universal Service Obligation commitments simply have not been met in large portions of Northern Ireland. It needs urgent attention by government, service providers and the regulatory bodies.”

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