Ulster Unionist South Down MLA Harold McKee has called for action to ensure better broadband coverage for rural areas of Northern Ireland.
Mr McKee, who is his Party’s Agriculture spokesperson, said: “As an MLA representing a rural constituency like South Down, one of the issues raised most often with me is the lack of reliable broadband coverage.
“This is creating great difficulties for a number of people, not least farmers and farm sales representatives and does not just affect my own locality of Mourne, but impacts large areas of Northern Ireland.
“Given that farmers are being encouraged to conduct a great deal of agricultural business online - not least Single Farm Payment applications - this is a far from ideal situation. Suggestions that farmers could use local libraries are not really practicable in many instances due to privacy requirements and the nature of the information being provided.
“I am also aware of problems being experienced by Agricultural Sales Reps when travelling around many rural areas and visiting farms.
“I believe BT are in breach of their contract with many of their customers, because BT expect full payment for monthly contracts averaging £40 - £50 per month, when many of their customers are receiving well below the required level of internet signal.
“BT Contracts show acceptable levels of between 1MB and 17MB but some of the people I have spoken with this week are receiving .25 MB .13 MB .14 MB and .75 MB.
“In South Down less than 60 percent of the constituency has access to superfast broadband, which places us among some of the worst levels of coverage in the United Kingdom. This is simply not good enough. While Ofcom has recently taken positive steps in Great Britain, criticising BT and Openreach for woeful levels of service, and ordered them to operate as distinct companies, no such action has been taken in Northern Ireland, where BT is responsible for the roll out of broadband.
“I will be doing all I can to continue to raise this issue, to ensure that rural areas of Northern Ireland, including the people of South Down, gain the maximum level of coverage that is possible.”