National Broadband Plan roll-out continues amid criticism of moving targets

8 Apr 2022

Image: © Sarot/Stock.adobe.com

PAC recently criticised the National Broadband Plan’s lack of progress and said it ‘does not represent value for money to the taxpayer’.

National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the company delivering the National Broadband Plan on behalf of the Government, said that there is “strong momentum” in the roll-out across Ireland.

In a progress update yesterday (7 April), the company said it is on track to have 221,000 homes in the ‘under construction’ phase of the project by the end of the year, with 128,000 ‘available to order’.

Future Human

NBI also said it expects the number of premises passed by the network to be 102,000 homes, an increase of 102pc.

“Our ability to move premises from the construction phases to the order phase is seriously ramping up, which means users can reap the benefits of the transformational network sooner,” NBI chair David McCourt said.

However, years of delays have led to concerns about the project’s deadlines. A report by the Committee of Public Accounts (PAC) published earlier this week was critical of NBI missing contractual deadlines last year.

The report noted the agreed target with NBI was to have 115,000 premises passed by the end of January 2022. An interim remedial plan was submitted by NBI, which had a revised target of 60,000 premises.

“However, the actual number of premises passed by the network by 31 January 2022 was 34,454,” the PAC report said.

A low take-up rate

In its recent progress update, NBI said there are take-up rates of 30pc in deployment areas that have been live for a period of six months or more. NBI’s CEO, Peter Hendrick, said this is “growing all the time” and is a “strong indicator of future demand”.

“Ultimately, we are confident of an overall take-up of approximately 85pc and already have some 50 broadband providers signed up to sell services on the NBI network,” Hendrick said.

Speaking to an Oireachtas Joint Committee at the end of January, Hendrick said only 6,000 homes had actually signed up and were receiving broadband from the plan.

The PAC report published this week said that by 10 February, 7,000 properties were connected to the network, which represents an 18.4pc take-up rate. It added that it is “not satisfied” that the NBI’s take-up target of 85pc is realistic.

At that stage, NBI said that high-speed fibre broadband was available in 22 counties and that 55,000 premises across could order and pre-order a connection to the fibre network.

“Given that NBI has received approximately €132.3m in subsidies to the end of quarter three 2021, the committee is concerned that the progress achieved to date does not represent value for money for the taxpayer,” the PAC report said.

It recommended that the Department of Communications take a “strong oversight role” to ensure the NBI meets its 2022 targets, once they are agreed.

The National Broadband Plan aims to connect more than 1.1m people across 544,000 homes, businesses, farms and schools in Ireland where commercial operators do not currently provide high-speed connectivity.

The full deployment of the contract, which was signed in November 2019, is expected to be complete by 2027 but delays have raised concerns about that deadline being met. The Business Post reported at the end of January that serious questions also remain about the financing, ownership, control and progress of the deal.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com