The poor state of Eir’s existing telecommunications infrastructure is emerging as one of the main reasons for the delay in the rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP).
The controversial scheme, which has been beset by delays since it began two years ago, is utilising Eir’s network of poles and ducts to get at the 554,000 premises covered by the State-subsidised scheme.
A senior official from the Department of Communications told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that the former State monopoly’s existing rural network was in a worse state of repair than initially envisaged.
“While it was anticipated that elements of the rural network would need to be remediated or upgraded, the extent of the remediation required, particularly in the underground network, is greater than envisaged when the contract was signed,” Mark Griffin, accounting officer with the Department of Communications, said.
“Both Eir and operator National Broadband Ireland [NBI] are addressing these issues including the introduction by Eir at the end of last year of ‘rapid response teams’ to support the timely remediation of network issues as they are identified,” he said.
Eir is set to gain about €900 million in rent, more than a third of the €2.9 billion State subsidy, for the use of its poles and ducts, which NBI needs to use to get at the most out-of-the-way premises. The former State monopoly exited the NBP process half way through citing problems with the tender.
Earlier the committee heard from NBI chief executive Peter Hendrick, who said the project would be completed by its target date of the end of 2026 despite its rollout being significantly behind schedule with just 7,000 premises connected to date.
He said the company had doubled the number of contractors working on the project to four and was in talks to take on more as it looks to get back on track.
The NBI was “rolling out enough cable to get from Dublin to Paris each month currently ,” Mr Hendrick said,
He told the committee that more than 298,000 premises had been surveyed to date, with more than 54,500 of these homes in a position to place orders to receive high-speed fibre internet services. Overall, some 154,000 premises are either constructed or under construction versus 19,000 a year earlier.
NBI has blamed the slow rollout of the project on Covid-19. Last year it cut its end-of-January rollout target from 115,000 to 60,000 and recently said it would not meet this new target until the end of next month.
Asked by committee chairman Brian Stanley whether he was aware of rumours that a significant shareholder in the project may be planning to sell their stake at this early stage, Mr Griffin said he was unaware of the rumour but insisted the ownership structure behind NBI would remain the same.
Mr Hendrick earlier confirmed that certain early-stage investors were expected to be replaced with investors who “specialise in long-term investments”.