Rollout of National Broadband Plan falls further behind schedule

Company behind project admits it will not make target to pass 60,000 homes

David McCourt (left) and Peter Hendrick, chief executive of National Broadband Ireland. Mr Hendrick said the group would miss its revised end-of-January target to pass 60,000 homes and premises. Photograph: Julien Behal

David McCourt (left) and Peter Hendrick, chief executive of National Broadband Ireland. Mr Hendrick said the group would miss its revised end-of-January target to pass 60,000 homes and premises. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

The rollout of the State-subsidised National Broadband Plan (NBP) has fallen further behind schedule with the operator admitting it will now miss its revised end-of-January target to pass 60,000 homes and premises.

National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the company behind the project, told the Oireachtas committee on transport and communications that it had passed 34,000 homes earmarked for the scheme and that it would take until the end of March to hit the 60,000 target.

The delivery of the multibillion-euro project has been beset by delays since it started two years ago.

Last year NBI cut its end-of-January rollout target from 115,000 to 60,000, saying the project had been disrupted by Covid restrictions.

NBI chief executive Peter Hendrick told the committee on Thursday that the 60,000 target would not now be met until the end of March.

“As we roll out the network, we have encountered a number of issues, the majority of which have been beyond our direct control, meaning it is difficult to predict completion dates for premises with absolute certainty,” Mr Hendrick told the committee.

“While this is inevitable in the early days of delivery of a brownfield project of this nature, I appreciate that it can cause some frustration when seeking to communicate with stakeholders,” he said.

However, he insisted that more than 154,000 premises are under construction, while NBI has also contracted Eir to increase the volume of pole replacement and duct installation to increase “operational efficiencies”. The project is utilising incumbent Eir’s existing network of poles and ducts to get at the houses in the intervention area.

Shareholder structure

Mr Hendrick also addressed recent media reports around the shareholder structure of NBI, insisting the ownership structure remains as it was at the signing of the contract.

“As a business, we are concerned about a series of inaccuracies and/or misleading claims in certain media reports surrounding our shareholdings and broader financial matters – most notably reporting that suggests subsidy payments to NBI were somehow used for reimbursing shareholders for bid costs associated with the tender process,” he said.

Mr Hendrick was speaking in the wake of reports that Granahan McCourt, the US investment firm behind NBI, received €33 million from the process to cover its tender costs.

According to the 2020 accounts for Metallah Ltd – the parent company of National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the vehicle set up to deliver the project – it paid €32.73 million to NBI Bidco LLC, a US firm directly controlled by David McCourt, the founder and chief executive of Granahan McCourt.

But Mr Hendrick said NBI “has not been and will not be paid by the State if it does not deliver these milestones” and that the aforementioned money was separate from any State subsidies received by the group to date.

Separately, Labour communications spokesman Duncan Smith said in order to ensure a functioning flexible work culture in Ireland the broadband capacity simply must catch up.

“The broadband plan is so far behind and so far delayed that questions must be asked of the investment firms that are backing up the NBI. The Minister must sit down with these providers and understand if they are in it for the long haul with the true desire to deliver on the goals of the plan,” he said.