NBP boss says rural broadband acceleration won’t happen for years

The company building the National Broadband Plan has poured cold water on the government’s promise of an acceleration to the state-backed rollout.

eter Hendrick, CEO of National Broadband Ireland, said today that there will be no acceleration in the rural rollout until at least 2023, with ordinary homes only set to benefit from 2025, close to the end of the current plan.

It will come as a blow to hundreds of thousands of Irish rural households stuck without broadband.

Earlier this year, Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said that the government was confident the state-subsidised rollout could be speeded up.

But under questioning from TDs and Senators today, Mr Hendrick said that any acceleration would not immediately help those stuck without connectivity for years to come.

National Broadband Ireland, which has suffered Covid-related delays in its rollout, has only finished 23,000 of the 540,000 connections it has been contracted to do at a likely cost of around €2bn to the Exchequer.

It slashed its connection target of 115,000 premises to 60,000 by the end of 2021, blaming disruption and contractor-related difficulties.

Mr Hendrick said that he hoped the rollout company would see “recovery” to its initial targets by 2023. He added that the connection benefits from any acceleration in the rollout would be focused from “years six and seven to years five and six”.

NBI expects to connect half of the 540,000 homes and businesses without broadband by 2024. It plans to add at least 70,000 homes per year from 2022.

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications was unavailable to comment.

Separately, Mr Hendrick said that National Broadband Ireland is about to sign contracts with suppliers for the next phase of its fibre broadband buildout to 195,000 premises.

However, those homes may not be physically connected for months or years.

Mr Hendrick said that NBI has contracted Eir to increase the number of poles it can “make ready” to NBI, starting next month.

He said that of homes already connected, customer satisfaction is at 92pc.

A recent Eurobarometer survey claimed that Irish people are the most keen in Europe to work from home but are being stymied by huge gaps in rural broadband availability.

43pc of rural Irish residents say that broadband is still a problem in their area, compared to just 26pc across the EU, according to the Eurobarometer survey.

In general, Ireland sits close to the top of EU countries who say that “digital infrastructure” still needs to be addressed.

This is in spite of Irish people being the most gung-ho across the continent about working from home, with 33pc telling the Eurobarometer survey that they are “much more likely” to work from home “at least some of the time” when the pandemic ends. This is a higher figure than any other EU country polled in the survey.

While both Eir and Siro are rolling out their own private fibre broadband networks, these are focused mainly in towns that already have some broadband infrastructure.

Alternative rural services, such as rooftop aerial wireless options from companies like Imagine Broadband, have only picked up a small fraction of the footprint that’s due to be covered by the NBP.

Starlink, the high-speed satellite broadband service launched by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, is currently available to pre-order in Ireland with an expected launch in the Autumn.

However, although connection speeds are in excess of 100Mbs, the cost of using Starlink is much higher than fibre or other alternatives, at €100 per month plus a €500 up-front payment for a satellite dish.

 

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