5 things we’ve learned about the future of the National Broadband Plan

8 May 2019

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The Government has set out its stall for the long-sought-after National Broadband Plan, making some big promises for the years ahead.

In what amounted to a confirmation process, the Government has finally appointed the National Broadband Ireland consortium – the only one left in the race – to lead the country’s €3bn National Broadband Plan (NBP).

Led by business magnate David McCourt, the group will now be set the target of connecting 1.1m people across Ireland to high-speed broadband within the next seven years. Setting out its stall, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment promised that every home, farm, school and business in Ireland will have access to high-speed broadband, no matter where they are located.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, said following the announcement that this was a “very significant day for our country”. In response to criticism surrounding the cost of the project, he said that “we must pay the price of progress now, or we risk staying trapped in the past forever”.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, TD, compared the NBP to the efforts of national electrification that occurred between the 1940s and 1970s in Ireland.

“This investment will have a transformative effect on rural Ireland, future-proofing communities for generations to come. Digital technology is revolutionising how we live, learn and work, and we want to make sure rural Ireland is not left behind,” he said.

What are the connection speeds?

In terms of speeds, the Government has promised that fibre will be delivered to 98pc of premises starting with a 150Mbps connection, rising to 500Mbps 10 years into the project for residential users.

A total of 300 broadband connection points will be installed in the first year, acting as hotspots for free Wi-Fi in different communities. During this time, the fibre roll-out will also be underway.

The big caveat for the 2pc of homes the Government said won’t be connected to fibre is that they will be given access to high speeds through other means, such as 5G.

How much it will cost?

As per previous reports, the State is expected to put €3bn into the project over the next quarter of a century, €2bn more than was originally planned but half the cost of the current total for the NBP. This includes a total of €545m for contingency plans and legal entitlements that the State can claim in the situation where any financial windfall occurs from the plan.

For the consumer, it’s reported that those targeted under the NBP will be required to pay a one-off fee of €100, which Government officials have described as be a low enough price to “encourage uptake”.

Who else is involved?

As part of the agreement, National Broadband Ireland will subcontract out work, aside from the Government’s own metropolitan area network. One of the big names will be Nokia, whose technology will be a core part of the NBP.

Elsewhere, more than 40 contractors have been brought in, including the Kelly Group, Actavo and the KN Group.

When can it start?

Minister Bruton said the likelihood is that pen will be put to paper within the next six months. After that, construction should begin next year. Once it starts, National Broadband Ireland has promised to complete the project within seven years, as per the NBP agreement.

How has the opposition reacted?

The main opposition parties have criticised the announcement as being a political move. Fianna Fáil communications spokesperson Timmy Dooley, TD, said that the announcement had “all the hallmarks of a PR exercise two weeks out from a local and a European election”.

Similarly, Labour leader Brendan Howlin, TD, said Fine Gael was putting politics ahead of the overall good of the State. “Labour wants to see rural broadband delivered, but this plan risks leaving people in rural Ireland totally dependent on a private monopoly, which will ultimately be able to charge what it wants for access to the internet,” he said.

Sinn Féin communications spokesperson Brian Stanley, TD, said: “This Government is now costing the taxpayer billions of euros. The cost overrun in the NBP is set to be bigger than the one at the National Children’s Hospital.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic