Bad news for rural Ireland as National Broadband Plan delayed to 2017

26 Apr 2016

Rural Ireland's broadband woes could persist until 2022 because of a delay in the awarding of contracts under the National Broadband Plan until 2017

The Government’s €275m National Broadband Plan to connect 1.8m citizens to a minimum of 30Mbps broadband by 2020 is to be delayed for a year until 2017 and it could even be 2022 by the time all homes in Ireland have high-speed broadband.

The original plan had been to begin procurement by the middle of 2016 and bring broadband to 85pc of premises by 2018 and 100pc by 2020.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) has confirmed that procurement will not now begin until 2017 and it could be three to five years (2022 at the outset) before the plan is fully delivered.

The move will be met with dismay by thousands of citizens in areas not served by broadband who are missing out on vital 21st-century services.

‘Building the network in the intervention area remains a priority and we are seeking the fastest possible deployment’

The DCENR said it has received five responses from interested parties but, because it is a complicated process, it will not be in a position to grant contracts until 2017.

It envisages the National Broadband Plan could be achieved within three to five years of the contracts being awarded.

No silver bullet yet for Ireland’s broadband woes

The National Broadband Plan covers 96pc of Ireland’s national land mass, 100,000km of road networks, 1.8m citizens and some 750,000 postal addresses.

Backed by the EU, it proposes to deliver a minimum of 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload speeds with 99.95pc uptime to some 1.8m people and 750,000 postal addresses.

Led by the DCENR, a tender was published on the eTenders and European Official Journal on 22 December inviting players to submit bids for the project.

In recent weeks, the DCENR reaffirmed that it was sticking to its broadband route despite Eir’s rollout of broadband in 300,000 premises in broadband-deprived areas.

At that point, the DCENR said that no company had satisfied all the criteria and no agreements had been signed.

Broadband plan held up due to complex procurement process

In a statement today (26 April), the DCENR said that the lynchpin of the plan is the awarding of a 25-year-long contract and that it is vital that this is done correctly from a technical, future-proofing and value-for-money for the State perspective.

It said it will invite short-listed bidders to take part in a dialogue process over the summer, which could take time based on the complexities involved.

“Based on our extensive procurement planning, the granting of an earlier industry request for an extension to the PPP submission deadline and the number of responses received, it is now envisaged that the Department will not be in a position to award a contract until 2017,” the DCNR explained.

“Building the network in the intervention area remains a priority and we are seeking the fastest possible deployment.

“The Department will engage with the winning bidder(s) on the optimum rollout strategy, and on the sequencing of the network deployment to maximise efficiencies during network build, having regard to business and consumers’ needs, and to areas of particularly poor service and areas of strong demand.

“Our engagement with industry stakeholders and suppliers during pre-procurement consultations has indicated that the rollout in the intervention could be achieved within three-to-five years of date of contract award.

“While there are a number of dependencies impacting on the timeframe for deployment of the network, for example, the technology to be used or the number of contracts awarded, it remains our ambition and emphasis continues to be the quickest possible delivery of the network and services to consumers,” the DCENR said.

Eir to press ahead with its high-speed rural plans

Incumbent telecoms operator Eir said it noted the delay to the plan.

“Eir confirms that it will continue to roll out high-speed broadband at pace. Today, 1.4m homes and businesses (60pc of premises) across Ireland, can access high-speed broadband,” the company said.

“This will rise to 1.6m, or 70pc of the country by June of this year, and will reach 1.9m premises (80pc of all homes and businesses) as soon as possible thereafter.

“We have commenced the rollout of high-speed broadband to the additional 300,000 homes and businesses in rural Ireland. We aim to complete the first 100,000 by the end of this year.

“We will continue to assist the Government to ensure that the National Broadband Plan is implemented so that every home and business across Ireland can access high-speed broadband as quickly as possible,” Eir said.

Rural broadband image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years