Government considers fast-tracking National Broadband Plan

Covid crisis has highlighted importance of good broadband, says minister

NBI was awarded the multibillion-euro State contract to roll out broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses late last year.

NBI was awarded the multibillion-euro State contract to roll out broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses late last year.

 

The Government is considering fast-tracking the National Broadband Plan (NBP) in response to the coronavirus crisis, Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan has said.

Mr Ryan said in the Dáil that the pandemic had highlighted the importance of good reliable broadband in facilitating remote working, providing access to education, and for essential online facilities.

“My department is engaging with National Broadband Ireland (NBI) to explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of the planned roll-out to establish the possibility of bringing forward premises which are currently scheduled in years six and seven of the plan to an earlier date. These discussions are ongoing,” said Mr Ryan.

“The commitment and the desire to meet the objectives of the NBP are absolutely concrete and clear. The desire to try to accelerate it, in part by what has happened with Covid-19 and the importance of having connectivity for people working remotely, is very real,” he added.

Mr Ryan warned, however, that any changes proposed in relation to accelerating the plan would require “detailed technical, commercial and financial analysis”.

He also said that fast-tracking the scheme might not be feasible.

“If it was easy in the first place, it [the plan] would not have been set out as a six- or seven-year contract,” Mr Ryan said.

His comments come just weeks after it emerged that the coronavirus pandemic has led to delays in the roll-out of the plan. Mr Ryan said the delays were primarily due to the inability of contractors in Britain to travel here and to problems in providing a safe working environment.

“The Covid pandemic has created difficulties in terms of getting access to contractors who would do the actual work. It brings the imperative to accelerate but also difficulties in that regard at the same time,” he said.

Extent of delays

The extent of the delays is being assessed, with NBI committed to putting in place measures to mitigate the impact, according to Mr Ryan.

“Exploring the potential to accelerate the network roll-out is being undertaken in parallel with the measures required to mitigate delays arising as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic which must be the primary focus at this juncture,” he said.

As of last week, design work had been completed or is ongoing in target townlands across 21 counties. By year end, NBI expects to have completed some 120,000 surveys.

NBI was awarded the multibillion-euro State contract to roll out broadband to 540,000 homes and businesses late last year after Eir and Siro withdrew from the competition.

Last month NBI said that customers will receive download speeds that are considerably faster than originally envisaged. The company originally committed to providing minimum download speeds of 150 megabits per second. But it is now promising speeds of 500mbps once the network is live.