Broadband firms blamed as rural roll-out delayed to 2019
The Government is blaming broadband operators for a new delay in the roll-out of rural broadband.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten said the service from the State-subsidised National Broadband Plan for more than a million people now won't begin until 2019.
The Department of Communications said the delay was partially due to shortlisted operators asking for extra time.
"Overall timing remains dependent on a number of factors, including the time required by bidders," said a spokesman for Mr Naughten, who also described the procurement process as "complex".
Eir, Siro and Enet are the three bidders shortlisted for the taxpayer-funded roll-out plan, which aims to provide 542,000 rural homes and businesses with fibre broadband.
These premises are currently cut off from broadband, with internet services that fail to offer access to everyday online facilities.
The State-subsidised National Broadband Plan was initially due to begin construction last year. However, a series of delays has pushed its roll-out back by over two years. Many industry experts do not now expect the process to be completed before 2023.
Delays to the scheme may not be over.
Siro, a joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB, is considering withdrawal from the process because of a deal done between the Government and Eir that split 300,000 homes away from the intervention plan and into Eir's commercial roll-out zones.
"We have to figure out whether it still makes commercial sense for us or not," said a spokesman for Siro.
The operator will decide by September whether it will remain in the bidding process. If it doesn't, the schedule could be delayed even further should the Government decide to replace Siro with another operator prior to issuing a tender or awarding a contract.
Under the terms of the State's recently signed contract with Eir, the telecoms company agreed to extend its commercial broadband service to 300,000 additional homes and businesses in areas currently not served by high-speed broadband.
The Government said this would be done by the end of 2018, with unspecified financial penalties applicable if Eir missed its deadline.
Some 90pc of the new Eir connections are to be fibre lines into homes, with the remaining 10pc based on existing phone lines.
"The Government's National Broadband Plan has been very successful in encouraging increased levels of investment by commercial operators," said the spokesman for Mr Naughten.
"This in turn means that more people will have access to high-speed broadband at an early date and also reduces the number of premises to be included in the State intervention."
The spokesman said that in 2016, only 52pc of premises had access to high-speed broadband and that this would rise to 77pc of premises by the end of 2018 due to Eir's commercial roll-out.
"The National Broadband Plan procurement process has not been paused and is continuing in parallel with commercial deployment of high-speed broadband by commercial operators," said the spokesman. "The procurement for the State intervention is continuing."