After many delays, the Cabinet has signed the contract for the implementation of the National Broadband Plan with the consortium National Broadband Ireland. The signing means that meaningful work to connect 540,000 rural homes and businesses to high-speed internet will begin in 2020.
The signing of the contract will come as a great relief to those rural residents not covered by the private companies who have until now been the only option to access high-speed internet in Ireland. First announced in 2012, the signing of this contract has been seven years in the making.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called the signing a national solution to a national problem once the ink had dried on the contract. He said that the National Broadband Plan was done with the objective of ensuring that nobody was left behind in Ireland when it came to jobs and services. Referencing the delays and cost that had caused much consternation throughout the tendering process, the Taoiseach said that the opposition had had five months to come up with a cheaper and better alternative broadband plan but had failed to do so.
The Taoiseach also stated that had the contract not been signed in November as it had been, the process would have been delayed a further five years. He also predicted that the overall cost of the implementation of the plan would eventually come in under the €3 billion budget it has been allocated.
Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton TD said that the average rural customer who avails of the broadband offered by National Broadband Ireland will pay the same on average as an urban area customer would pay to a private company. “A controlled price of €100 will be paid to National Broadband Ireland from the retailer,” Bruton said in a radio interview after the signing. The Minister added that it is National Broadband Ireland who assumes the risk if uptake turns out to be lower than expected, but that the Government will reclaim 60 per cent of the profits if uptake is higher than expected.
Work is to begin on the rollout of the plan in January, with the initial focus on connecting 300 hubs around the country to make broadband accessible locally to as many rural communities as possible. While total rollout could take up to seven years to complete, these hubs — GAA clubs, community centres and local libraries — will act as community amenities in the meantime.
The 300 areas have been identified and made public, with areas such as Carrigaline in county Cork covered. It is also notable the density of hub points in Gaeltacht areas, such as Leitir Mealláin, Bearna and Carna in Galway and Árd na gCeapairí and Toraigh in Donegal.
It is expected that 130,000 premises, approximately one quarter of the overall plan, will be connected by the end of the year 2021, with 40 per cent to be connected by the end of 2022. With 95 per cent of the 540,000 premises to be connected by the end of 2025, the hopes of rural Ireland rely on the implementation process being smoother than the planning process.