National Broadband Plan rollout a two-department job now

24 May 2016

The confusion around the flagging National Broadband Plan following the formation of the new Government, as well as a delay in tendering the project, has been cleared up a little bit.

“The weight of two departments,” is the grandiose wording used to promote the operational process to get the National Broadband Plan into action.

That’s right, the Department of Communications will not be handing over the keys to the project to the Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht, under the stewardship of Heather Humphreys, as was previously announced.

Instead, the former will continue with the procurement for a high-speed telecoms network, and will develop proposals for an entity to manage all of the State’s broadband contracts. Humphreys’ department will then be tasked with ensuring that the rollout can be delivered quickly once contracts are in place.

“This process already commenced and is well underway and I expect interested companies to be shortlisted as bidders in the next month,” said Denis Naughten, the Minister for Communications, confirming again the delay in tender decisions until mid-2017.

The reason the Government has made a comment on this is because of the utter confusion that arose following the formation of the current Government.

The news last month that the €275m project was struggling to get across the line on time was not entirely surprising. However, when it looked like it would move from one department to another and, more importantly, one team to another, that was a shock.

The plan, aimed at connecting 1.8m citizens to a minimum of 30Mbps by 2020, has yet to be rolled out, with the new start date of mid-2017 (rather than 2016) meaning a potential knock-on effect of a two-year delay before 100pc of homes are connected through the plan.

“Farming, education, business, health, tourism, communities and government should all benefit from better connectivity,” said Nuaghten, with his department there to “help revitalise rural Ireland” through this plan.

Humphreys will now set up task forces to work with local authorities and stakeholders to streamline any planning issues that may arise, as well as establish priority areas. Also, and quite interestingly, a national mobile phone and broadband taskforce will be established to look into rural grievances in that area, too.

Businesspeople in a field, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic