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Businesses in Northern Ireland are set to benefit from faster broadband speeds, it has been revealed.

BT, the government and the European Union have teamed up to provide a £48 million funding injection for the nation's internet infrastructure, meaning next-generation broadband should be available to the majority of firms within 18 months.

Under the terms of the government tender, BT will provide companies based in urban areas with a minimum downstream speed of 10Mb, while those in the countryside will receive at least 2Mb.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said the investment would prove "hugely significant", not least in terms of the 1,000 extra jobs it could create.

"This project is designed to deliver on the key Programme for Government objective to ensure 85 per cent of businesses in Northern Ireland will have access to next-generation broadband speeds by 2011," she stated.

Ms Foster described broadband as "an enabler" which allows businesses to increase their productivity, improving the competitiveness of the economy as a whole.

"In order to do so, it is essential that our businesses take advantage of the exciting new opportunities this project creates so all of Northern Ireland can reap these benefits," she added.

Earlier this week, economist Jim Power told the Donegal News that Ireland's National Broadband Scheme will help boost the economy of the northernmost county.

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