The Government revealed yesterday that up to 170,000 additional premises are to be addressed as part of the National Broadband Plan after it emerged premises in areas supposedly covered by commercial telcos may not actually be served at all.
Do you live in an area that is supposed to be covered by broadband? Do your neighbours have broadband and you don’t?
Well, it’s time to speak up, according to Communications Minister Denis Naughten TD.
Naughten revealed that the National Broadband Plan – which aims to serve 1.8m people currently overlooked by commercial operators – will now have to accommodate 170,000 additional premises.
This will bring the footprint of the plan to deliver a minimum of 30Mbps to every home in the intervention area (areas deemed by telcos to be not commercially viable) from 757,000 premises to 927,000 premises.
Before the Government began the National Broadband Plan process – the start of which has been delayed to June 2017 – it carried out a detailed mapping exercise requiring input from the various telecoms providers around Ireland.
This resulted in a map divided into two colours – blue and amber. Blue represented the areas supposedly served with high-speed broadband by telecoms operators while amber represented the intervention areas where people could not get high-speed broadband.
A quick glance at the map shows you the scale of the problem, with the blue areas (mostly urban) standing out like digital oasis in a vast amber desert.
The National Broadband Plan is a vast undertaking that will shuttle fibre and wireless connectivity across 100,000km of road networks and will effectively cover 96pc of Ireland’s landmass with high-speed connectivity.
The plan will ensure that every premises in the intervention area will have a minimum download speed of 30Mbps and upload speeds of 6Mbps. However, this is a minimum goal – the network will be future-proofed and already operators like Eir and SIRO (the Vodafone/ESB consortium) have shown that it is possible to go above and beyond this to services as fast as 1Gbps.
Don’t get left behind – speak up!
However, it emerged in negotiations and the shortlisting process that there are up to 170,000 premises of the 1.6m premises in the blue area for which there is no certainty that services will be provided.
That bombshell was almost lost amidst the discussion about the ownership of the final network – the Government has gone for a gap-funding model that will place final ownership in the hands of whichever consortium/consortia wins the final contract.
Naughten said that the ownership decision was made because if the State had gone for the model of full ownership of the network by the State after 26 years it would have worked out at up to 70pc more expensive and would have diverted money on the Exchequer’s balance sheet away from emergencies such as housing and climate change in the near term.
However, in the course of negotiations with bidders, the team leading the project at the Department of Communications discovered that 170,000 premises in areas already supposed to be served by operators may not be served at all.
Naughten said that the decision to include these 170,000 premises won’t delay the National Broadband Plan and won’t results in extra cost.
“The original copper networks weren’t built as the crow flies and as the network went to the edge of towns there was a fall-off in coverage. The operators said they were going to provide a geographic area around each of the exchanges. But it was only when these exchanges went live that we were able to discover who was able to get broadband and who wasn’t.”
This explains the anomaly in which homes and businesses in built-up towns and cities – including Dublin – still can’t get served with broadband.
Naughten said that these overlooked premises can be addressed quickly and affordably when the plan begins in June 2017 and officials are trying to identify these premises.
He also urged people to speak up and they should if they feel they are being ignored by commercial operators. They should go to the map at broadband.gov.ie to see if they are in a blue or amber area and a dedicated email address firstname.lastname@example.org has been set up for members of the public to communicate with officials.
“We really need to know. If you are in a blue area on the map but you aren’t getting high-speed broadband, email us in your Eircode.”
Naughten said that by September his department hopes to have identified all of the 170,000 premises.
He said that, in many cases, including his own home town, premises within yards of an exchange were often missed because of the concentric nature of networks.
“It’s a bit hit-and-miss and you can’t blame the operators. They built out voice networks and when the exchanges became enabled it was when these problems came up.”
Broadband highway image via Shutterstock