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National Broadband Plan

Hundreds complain of broadband blackspots after promised rollouts don't materialise

The National Broadband Plan was due to be finished next year – but work is yet to even start.

HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE have complained about high-speed internet services that never materialised despite their areas being excluded from the State’s planned rural broadband scheme on the grounds they would be covered by private operators.

But the government says it is unable to tell commercial providers to follow through with their plans as households and businesses wait on the fate of the troubled broadband programme.

Under the National Broadband Plan, which was first unveiled in 2012, premises unable to get high-speed broadband from commercial providers would get taxpayer-subsidised services to their homes and businesses.

Its more recent iteration, from 2015, involved around 750,000 premises in rural and regional areas getting fibre connections with download speeds of at least 30Mbps by 2020.

The plan has since been hit by a string of setbacks, including the withdrawal of major broadband players Eir and Siro from the tender process leaving a sole bidder, US investment firm Granahan McCourt.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar recently said the government was still deciding whether to proceed with the bid as the plan – now covering around 500,000 sites, representing more than 20% of the country’s premises – would cost “many multiples” of the original estimates.

The subsidy for the scheme was first put at around €500 million, although a price tag as high as six times that figure has since been suggested. Industry sources have said it could take at least five years to complete the network once work begins.

However new figures provided to suggest that many homes and businesses left outside the scheme because of plans from commercial providers have also been struggling to get access to promised high-speed broadband connections.

NBP map The National Broadband Plan map. Yellow areas require State intervention.

The Department of Communications said that it had recorded around 1,000 queries since 2017 relating to premises in areas where private firms had said they planned to provide broadband services.

Up to 95% of these were from people who said they were unable to get any high-speed broadband access, it added.

No power to direct

A spokesman for the department said the government had no power to “direct or instruct telecommunications operators to provide high-speed services in areas previously identified as commercial” on the National Broadband Plan map.

“However, in the event commercial operators’ plans for these premises in areas currently identified as commercial do not materialise it may become necessary for the department to intervene,” he said.

“The procurement process allows for such premises to be included in the State intervention area.”

The National Broadband Plan map has been redrawn several times to include sites where planned private investments failed to materialise and new rollouts from commercial firms.

The largest of those additional rollouts, Eir’s agreement with the government in 2017 to reach 300,000 premises in rural and regional areas, was blamed with making the final tender for the remaining properties, often in the most isolated areas, less attractive.

The Eir rollout was due to be completed at the end of last year, however it pushed back the completion date to June after the company blamed Storm Ophelia for disrupting its schedule.

The department said it had also recorded about 400 queries relating to Eir’s promised rural fibre network, about 100 of which related to premises that had already been passed by the rollout but were “experiencing issues” getting connected. The majority of these had been resolved, it said.

Coverage areas vary wildly between different parts of the country, with less than 2% of premises in County Dublin requiring State intervention to get access to high-speed broadband compared to more than 50% in Leitrim.

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