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First Beneficiaries of Project Stratum Connected to Next Generation Access Broadband

Economy Minister Diane Dodds meets with Tara Hamill, one of the first beneficiaries of Project Stratum, and Chief Operating Officer for Fibrus Networks Ltd Conor Harrison. Credit: Aaron McCracken

Economy Minister Diane Dodds has welcomed the announcement Fibrus Networks has connected its first customers to Next Generation Access broadband under Project Stratum.

Just three months into the awarding of the Project Stratum contract, the first OLT (Optical Line Termination) in Coalisland, County Tyrone is now live with the first customers connected.

Once completed Project Stratum, the £165million broadband improvement scheme, will radically transform rural broadband connectivity by extending gigabit capable full fibre broadband infrastructure to approximately 76,000 homes and businesses across Northern Ireland.

Project Stratum is Life Changing

Commenting after speaking to Tara Hamill, one of the first beneficiaries of Project Stratum, the Minister said: “In today’s world we are especially reliant on our broadband services and good connectivity. More and more of our work and leisure time is spent online and if you don’t have access to good broadband this can be a real issue. Speaking to Tara Hamill has underscored the difference Project Stratum can make to peoples lives and how it is bringing tangible benefits to householders.

Economy Minister Diane Dodds meets with Tara Hamill, one of the first beneficiaries of Project Stratum, and Chief Operating Officer for Fibrus Networks Ltd Conor Harrison. Credit: Aaron McCracken

“I know there are many communities, especially in rural areas, which have been waiting a long time for improvements in their broadband speeds. These first connections demonstrate Fibrus Networks have the capability and capacity to deliver full fibre solutions, with speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, to many rural premises transforming the broadband connectivity landscape for individuals and businesses across Northern Ireland.”

“I want to congratulate Fibrus Networks on reaching the first significant milestone and I look forward to hearing about their continued deployment in bringing the benefits of Next Generation Access broadband to many more neighbourhoods across Northern Ireland.”

Commitment and Dedication

Chief Operating Officer for Fibrus Networks Ltd Conor Harrison added: “The logistical planning and immediate execution of this work is testament to the commitment and dedication of Fibrus, as well as the skill of our team who are equipped and ready to deliver full fibre broadband to the people of Northern Ireland.”

UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “Access to fast and reliable broadband is a central focus of our mission to build back better. The UK government has invested £150million in Project Stratum to roll out top-of-the-range speeds not just to towns and cities but to rural communities across Northern Ireland. It’s great news for thousands of people and I’m excited to see the first customers plugged in to these game-changing gigabit connections.”


Stage Set For New Screen Media Innovation Lab

The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Trevor Cummings, with Ards and North Down Borough Council Chief Executive, Stephen Reid, are pictured at the Town Hall, Bangor Castle, during the BCRD meeting.

Ulster University’s plans for a new, world class Screen Media Innovation Lab (SMIL) were centre stage at today’s Belfast Region City Deal Council Panel meeting, hosted by Ards and North Down Borough Council.

SMIL is set to play a key role in the Belfast region’s economic recovery post-COVID, by building on the success of Northern Ireland’s creative industries which already contribute over £1billion GVA to the NI economy and employ around 26,000 people.

As one of the City Deal’s innovation projects, SMIL will provide a Centre of Excellence in Research and Development, and Innovation in Virtual Production, where academics, researchers and the creative sectors can collaborate using state of the art facilities, helping to both sustain and grow jobs in one of Northern Ireland’s most successful sectors.

The Mayor of Ards and North Down, Councillor Trevor Cummings, who chaired today’s Belfast Region City Deal Council Panel meeting, said:

“The Belfast Region City Deal partners are focused on driving investment in our most resilient sectors, and in projects which will lead to sustained, long term regional growth and job creation.

“Demand for virtual content production is rapidly growing, but there’s currently a lack of capacity in this field. And because the Belfast region has already established strengths in film, broadcast, animation, games, and virtual, augmented and mixed reality – we’re perfectly positioned to establish this new Screen Media Innovation Lab and meet that demand.”

Facilitating Virtual Innovation

Professor Frank Lyons, Associate Dean of Research and Impact, Co-Director of The Creative Industries Institute and Ulster University’s Academic Lead on the SMIL project, said:

“As well as facilitating the levels of virtual innovation that will make us world leaders, SMIL will provide training and development opportunities to strengthen our talent pipeline, meeting the needs of the sector and boosting our productivity. In conjunction with the Belfast Harbour Film Studio complex, SMIL will drive collaboration in R&D on an unprecedented scale.

“SMIL has the potential to completely transform our creative industries, providing the platform for local companies to compete globally and establishing the Belfast region as a destination of choice for investment.”

Transformative Programme of Investment

Momentum continues to build for the Belfast Region City Deal, with the aim that a deal will be signed this summer to kick off this transformative programme of investment in innovation and digital, tourism and regeneration, infrastructure and employability and skills.

With the NI Executive’s commitment of £350m to match fund the investment of £350m from the UK Government, the overall investment package from both governments and BRCD partners currently stands at £850m for this ambitious 15-year programme. The government and partner investment will leverage critical private sector investment that will ensure delivery of a deal with a value well in excess of £1billion.

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Car Tech Company Welcomes Tougher Action On Mobile Phone Use In Cars

The Chief Executive of car technology company Bluesona, Mel Morrison, has welcomed the introduction of tougher action on mobile phone use while driving as an important step in improving safety.

Downpatrick-based Bluesona works with insurance companies to provide a system, LoopMatics, that tackles distraction driving caused by mobile phone calls.

“The changes to The Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Order 2020 are vital,” said Mr Morrison. “They are a clear signal that mobile phone use while driving is the worst type of distraction for a motorist.”

Under the changes approved the fine for using a handheld mobile phone was increased from £60 to £200 and the number of penalty points increased to six. A second offence will lead to the loss of their licence.

Bluesona’s LoopMatics system tracks the driver’s on road behaviour as well as recording their mobile phone use. It is designed to encourage safer driving by providing feedback to the user on their journey and flagging the times when a mobile is used.

“The Statutory Rules introduced by Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, are an important step forward,” said Mr Morrison. “Hopefully they will indicate to all drivers that it is not legal, and not acceptable to use a mobile when behind the wheel.

“And I particularly welcome the fact that all parties backed Ms Mallon’s changes, and spoke so powerfully in the Assembly chamber.”

From 2017 Bluesona has focused on making driving safer, in partnership with insurance companies. Unlike many of the ‘black box’ style devices they developed LoopMatics uses a simple plug-in to track journeys, acceleration, heavy braking and if these coincide with using a mobile.

During the discussion on the changes to the Road Traffic Offenders Order Ms Mallon said that she had consulted with the Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee, Justice Minister, Naomi Long, and PSNI Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, and that all backed the increased penalties.

“The illegal use of a mobile phone while driving is a selfish disregard for the law,” the SDLP MLA said bringing forward her proposals in the chamber. “It poses a serious threat to not just the driver who made the selfish choice but to many other innocent road users. The consequences can be devastating.”

Mr Morrison said that he was conscious when developing LoopMatics it was clear there needed to be more than just a nudge to the way mobile phone use is thought about.

“There needs to be a change of attitude, and a change in behaviour,” he said. “It needs to be based on it becoming the norm to stop using phones when behind the wheel.

“And, I congratulate the Assembly parties and members on passing the changes with no opposition. Too often we forget the role of MLAs in introducing safety measures.”

Under the changes newly qualified drivers who commit the offence will also be banned on their first offence as a result of the increase in penalty points.

Chair of the Assembly Infrastructure Committee, Michelle McIlveen, said: “As we are all aware, the technical advancements in phones have made the device an indispensable addition to our lives.

“However, it is the urge to check messages and respond to the sound of a notification that makes them so dangerous whilst driving.”

The DUP member also said that the committee would support the planned review of mobile phone offences to be carried out in line with the English and Welsh Department for Transport review.

Sinn Féin’s Cathal Boylan reflected on the impact of fatal road accidents.

“It is often said that a single death on a road is one too many,” he said. “We must improve road safety in any way that we can.

“We all know how families and, indeed, communities are affected by a death. It is incumbent on us to try our best to introduce as many measures as possible.”

Ulster Unionist, Roy Beggs, said: “The use of mobile phones has become more and more common. Many people are almost addicted to them. They forget the risks that are involved in being distracted when driving, even by considering the use of such a phone.”

Andrew Muir of the Alliance Party echoed the seriousness of the issue.

“Fifty-six people died on our roads in Northern Ireland last year,” he said. “Nine in 10 road deaths and serious injuries are caused by human error. That is why we must come down hard on those being reckless with the safety of others.”

Mr Morrison said that safety was the ultimate aim of Bluesona and LoopMatics, through its ability to show drivers, in an easy to use interface the habits, especially in terms of mobile phone use that needs to change.

Bluesona is based in Downpatrick and has a centre in Letterkenny. They offer their LoopMatics software to customers through various insurance companies.

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