More broadband delays for people living in rural areas
Hundreds of thousands of rural dwellers are to be left in broadband limbo after the Government signed a contract with Eir to slash the number of homes included in the State-subsidised National Broadband Plan.
With the new contract handing over future broadband provision for 300,000 rural homes to Eir, the Government is now unable to say when roll out for the majority of the homes will begin.
It means that the project, which was due to begin this year, may not start with any building phase until late 2018.
Rival bidders to Eir also say that they may hold off participating in the wider state scheme for 540,000 rural homes and businesses.
"We will now take time to review whether this changed scope impacts the viability of Siro's participation," said a spokesman for Siro, the joint venture between the ESB and Vodafone which is one of two rival shortlisted bidders.
At a conference announcing the contract with Eir yesterday, Communications Minister Denis Naughten declined to say when the majority of the rural homes would see any rollout progress.
"I'm not into timeframes, I am into delivery," he told reporters.
"We're confident the three bidders will continue in this process. Whoever is successful in relation to the final phase will have access to the infrastructure being put in place by Eir to service the 300,000 premises.
"Because of this, it will allow us to rollout the remaining homes far quicker."
However, he could not say whether the 540,000 rural homes earmarked to receive high-speed broadband under the National Broadband Plan will see any broadband within the next year.
Under the terms of the new contract with Eir, the telecoms company has pledged to extend its commercial broadband service to 300,000 additional homes and businesses in areas currently not served by high-speed broadband.
The Government says that this will be done by the end of 2018, with unspecified financial penalties applicable if Eir misses 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.
However, the move has attracted criticism from other telecoms companies, which have cast doubt on Eir's ability to deliver the promised broadband services.
"How can the minister do this?" said Ronan Lupton, chairman of Alto, an association of telecoms companies.
"We're talking about a company that was in administration in 2012 and seeking to go for an IPO."
Mr Lupton said that the move jeopardises the competitive basis for the National Broadband Plan.
"The whole commercial viability of the National Broadband Plan is now in question," he said.
"We're in Angola with regards to rural broadband and it looks like we're going to stay in Angola."
However, Mr Naughten said that the Government plan was still on track.
He said that the majority of rural homes left out of Eir's roadmap would be covered "by the end of 2020".
"I'm from rural Ireland, I'm from the constituency with the worst broadband in the country," he said.
"Nobody has more skin in this game than me. The wool has not been pulled over my eyes on this."
Mr Naughten also brushed off the prospect of legal action by rival bidders for the National Broadband Plan.
"We've faced legal action from the beginning and none of them has come to fruition. At each stage we have to be very careful. We're going through a process here."