Naughten dashes hopes of fast roll-out
The Government has dampened hopes of a speedier rural broadband roll-out by reaffirming that people living outside cities must wait up to six years to get adequate broadband.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten said he could not promise rural broadband access before the current 2022 deadline - despite the country's biggest operators saying the process could be speeded up.
"I would love to see this done in six months or in two years. But we have had so many broken promises in relation to rural broadband. So when I give a date, I want to be able to stand over it."
Mr Naughten said the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan, which promises fibre-speed broadband to every rural home and business, would begin construction in June 2017 "barring any bumps in the road".
From then, it will take three to five years to roll out.
However, he said the Government would not consider making broadband a legal right for all citizens until the rural network was completed.
The Government's confirmation of a 2022 completion date will be seen as a significant U-turn by the Communications Minister, who complained earlier this year that the current timeframe was "not good enough" and that broadband connectivity was better "on the moon" than in large parts of rural Ireland.
"The planned roll-out of rural broadband, which is to be completed by 2021, needs to be fast-tracked," Mr Naughten said in February.
"The current pace of the roll-out of the Government's high-speed broadband plan for rural areas will see 64pc of premises in Co Roscommon and 47pc of premises in Co Galway have to wait until 2020 or 2021 for decent broadband. This is just not good enough."
Yesterday, Mr Naughten admitted his constituents would have to wait years for broadband under the confirmed timelines.
Some of Ireland's biggest telecoms operators have claimed that the rural network could be built in under three years.
Meanwhile, broadband users around the country face potential price rises with the news that Eir is increasing some of its network charges from September.
The move means that companies such as Vodafone and Sky are likely to increase their prices to broadband households.
However, Mr Naughten said a series of new, county-based task forces could help with planning to minimise obstructions faced by broadband companies seeking to roll out infrastructure. The Government will look at facilitating the use of state-owned assets, such as schools, garda stations, roads and other utilities for some elements of regional broadband roll-out.
Mr Naughten said Minister for Regional Development Heather Humphreys would use funding availability as both a carrot and a stick with local authorities.
"Minister Humphreys is going to go around to these local authorities and she has purse strings. She's going to be giving them money. And the reality is that whoever pays the piper calls the tune," he said.
"For example, the Leader fund is administered via the local authorities and she is also going to have access to additional capital monies to assist local authorities in regenerating town centres and so forth. She has influence in focusing the minds of the (local authority) CEOs."
Separately, a new EU law promises to force the ESB to give access to poles and ducts to broadband operators in rural regions. The directive, which comes into force next month, aims to reduce the cost of infrastructure roll-out.
The ESB is understood to be resisting attempts to give broadband firms access to its infrastructure. The Irish Independent understands that several requests have been made by Eir and other operators to access parts of the ESB network that could speed up rural broadband deployment.
A spokesman for the ESB said it was "not appropriate" to comment. A government spokesman said Comreg would be appointed to settle issues of non-compliance.