David McCourt supports speeding up the National Broadband Plan

10 Sep 2020

David McCourt. Image: Julien Behal Photography

In an interview for a Reuters podcast, David McCourt said ‘we’ll do our best’ to get the National Broadband Plan rolled out in five years.

Businessman David McCourt is in support of plans to roll out Ireland’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) in five years, rather than the seven-year plan that was initially agreed upon.

The €3bn contract for the NBP was signed in November 2019 by the Government and National Broadband Ireland (NBI), a consortium led by McCourt’s US-based private investment firm Granahan McCourt.

Recently, McCourt told a Reuters podcast that the project could be sped up.

“Hopefully we’ll get it done in five years,” he said. “Originally it was a 10-year project, then it was a seven-year project and now, because of Covid-19, [the Irish Government] want to make it a five-year project. It’s a multi-billion dollar project, so to do it in five years will be difficult, but we’ll do our best.”

In June of this year, McCourt also told trade publication Capacity Media that he believed the roll-out of Ireland’s new broadband infrastructure could be completed in “60pc of the time” that was initially planned.

Speeding up the roll-out

Former Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton, TD, said in May that his department was looking into ways to roll the plan out ahead of schedule, seeing if it could be completed within five years instead of seven.

Speaking to the Dáil, Bruton said: “People can see the value of things like e-health, being able to be connected wherever you are living, of having the opportunity of remote working. The target is to try from the second half of next year to try accelerate the roll-out.”

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party TD now serving as Minister for Communications, has also been pressing the NBI consortium to move more quickly, according to the Irish Independent, which reported on McCourt’s comments to Reuters earlier today (10 September).

The publication also said that McCourt’s consortium has not triggered any part of the plan’s €480m contingency fund just yet, despite the challenges that may have arisen during the pandemic.

Broadband work beginning

When the Government’s contract for the plan runs out in 25 years, McCourt’s NBI consortium will retain ownership of the network. The end goal is to connect 1.1m people across the country with high-speed broadband in 540,000 homes, schools, businesses and farms where commercial operators do not deliver connectivity.

The existing plan aims to connect one-quarter of targeted premises by the end of 2021, increasing to 40pc by the end of 2022 and then to 95pc five years after the initiative begins.

Over the summer, NBI chose Nokia’s infrastructure as the technological backbone of the planned fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network, with the Finnish telecoms company providing 100pc of the NBP’s active equipment.

Meanwhile, telecoms firm Entegro was chosen to survey and design the network. In May, the Kilkenny-headquartered company announced plans to hire 50 new engineers to support its work with the NBP. Entegro’s managing director, Jim Doyle, compared the NBP to the “rural electrification of Ireland.”

“There is not one home, family, business or community in rural Ireland that will not benefit from being connected to this fibre network,” Doyle said.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic