The company behind the National Broadband Plan has been criticised for not providing sufficient information about the rollout of the plan on its website and for "gaps" in the rollout, which has seen certain premises omitted from the first wave of deployment.
Officials from National Broadband Ireland (NBI) appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications Networks to discuss the €3 billion scheme to bring high-speed broadband to 540,000 mainly rural homes and businesses.
While NBI chief executive Peter Hendrick said the project was progressing on time, with more than 200,000 premises scheduled to be passed by the network over the next 24 months, several Deputies claimed the company's website was not fit for purpose and that people were still unclear when the new service was coming to their area.
Fine Gael's Joe Carey said the NBI's website was "from the stone age", and that there was an " information deficit" about delivery times.
He and other committee members also highlighted the problem of “gaps” in the current rollout, with certain premises located close to the network being left behind.
Committee chairman Kieran O’Donnell said this was unacceptable, and that “there appears to be a fundamental flaw where people could be waiting four to five years for a broadband connection when a neighbour has it”.
Mr Hendrick said plans were already under way to put more information on the website, including the company’s build programme for the next 12 months, which would allow people to see which areas and premises were due to be passed by the new network.
He said company would also put up details of the 33 retail operators that would soon be selling broadband packages from the network “so people will have better access and visibility”.
On the problem of “gaps”, Mr Hendrick acknowledged certain premises would have to wait, and that the rollout was following a natural build programme. “Over the next 18 to 24 months we’re going to start servicing a majority of those homes that are close to high-speed broadband that don’t have it today.”
Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley said "the only question anyone who wants broadband has is 'when am I getting broadband', and that it was incumbent on the company to produce a database of likely delivery times.
“There is nothing on your website that is in any way helpful in guiding on this,” he said.
In his opening address Mr Hendrick said more than 200,000 homes and businesses would be passed by the scheme within the next 24 months, bringing the State’s broadband coverage to 90 per cent.
He told the committee the company was in the process of connecting the first 19,500 homes earmarked for inclusion in the State-subsidised scheme.
The initial tranche of homes will be in Carrigaline in Co Cork, Barna and Clarinbridge in Co Galway, and Belturbet and Killashandra in Co Cavan.
Mr Hendrick said he hopeful the scheme could be delivered more quickly than the seven-year timeline originally envisaged, but could not specify by how much.
NBI chairman David McCourt has previously stated that the scheme could be fast-tracked by up to two years.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the way we live, work and educate has changed forever, and access to reliable, scalable high-speed connectivity is vital today and for generations to come,” Mr Hendrick said.
The scheme, which could cost the taxpayer as much as €3 billion in subsidies, will cover more than 540,000 homes and businesses,
It is expected to take up to seven years to complete, although the majority of homes will be “passed” or have access to the new network within the first three years.