The first fibre-to-the-home connections under the Government's National Broadband Plan will be available later this year, Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan has told TDs.
Addressing the Oireachtas committee on transport and communications networks, Mr Ryan said the first homes to be connected will be in counties Cavan and Cork, and these properties will have "minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset".
The broadband plan, costed at almost €3 billion, aims to deliver fast, reliable broadband to people living and working in nearly 540,000 homes or premises. It will involve the laying of 140,000km of fibre cable and will utilise more than 1.5 million poles and more than 15,000km of underground duct networks.
The current plan forecasts cable passing some premises in all counties within the first two years, and more than 90 per cent of premises in the State having access to high-speed broadband within the next four years.
But Mr Ryan noted the decision to sign up to the plan was still with the householder or premises owner, and the project leaders were keen to see what take-up would be in parts of Cork and Cavan.
Asked by Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú to explain how the Government hopes to accelerate the programme, Mr Ryan said it was not possible to provide a timeline at this stage, but he did hope to accelerate the scheme.
However, Mr Ryan was pressed by Fine Gael TD and committee chairman Kieran O'Donnell to provide more information for homeowners and businesses on when they might expect to be offered a connection.
Mr O’Donnell also asked about two challenges to the awarding of the contract for the National Broadband Plan, which were being made at EU level, citing anti-competitive State aid.
Mr Ryan said he was aware of the challenges that alleged that State aid in relation to the plan was in contravention of EU policy. But he said he believed the broadband project did meet all the requirements for State aid.
He said: “I would be very confident that it does meet all State aid requirements. There was a clear market gap, a real difficulty in terms of certain areas of the country not getting it, the market not delivering.
“People are entitled to take any cases they like to the EU commission, but I don’t see it stopping us. I don’t expect it [will] and hopefully it won’t affect the rollout of the plan.”
Mr Ryan said the plan had a seven-year timeframe but "the vast majority" of connections would be delivered in the first four years. He said most of the work done to date had been surveying and there remained some issues in some areas about whether ESB or Eir poles "or other systems" would be used to carry the fibre cable to premises.
Mr Ryan also said his department would look at the time it takes to get an Eircode postcode, as it was necessary to have such a code before broadband would be connected.
Cathal Crowe TD said it was the experience of some of his constituents that Eircodes could take several months to get, and therefore they did not have broadband. He asked the Minister to undertake to speed up the application service for Eircode addresses.
Mr Ryan responded that registering with the service provider National Broadband Ireland, available online at nbi.ie, would provide more information for applicants.