Broadband rollout cut means rural areas face more delays
The Government is to reduce the number of homes to be covered in the State-subsidised National Broadband Plan rollout.
The Irish Independent understands that the Government is to accept a promise by Eir to build new broadband connections to 300,000 rural homes. This would mean the Government will not include the 300,000 in its own subsidised rollout of more than 800,000 homes.
The move could delay again the rollout of fibre broadband to rural areas beyond 2021, the date previously identified by the Government as its completion period for the project.
A spokesman for Eir said the company told the Government it has pledged to build the new broadband connections by the end of 2018. He said that this would see some rural homes get connected in advance of the State-subsidised rollout, which has not yet begun and looks unlikely to start before 2018. He said that Eir has signed up to a 'commitment contract' with unspecified completion conditions.
However, the Government's move could cause rival bidders for the National Broadband Plan to reconsider bidding for the remaining rural homes, potentially putting the project in doubt.
Two of the three shortlisted bidders - Siro and eNet - have previously made it clear that chopping off the 300,000 most connectable homes from the Government's map would make the remaining 550,000 far more difficult and expensive to link up.
To keep bidders interested, the Government may have to increase the rollout subsidy per home.
The National Broadband Plan, a Government promise to connect every rural home and business to fibre-grade broadband by 2021, has been beset with delays and complications since it was announced in 2012.
The plan now looks likely to start a rollout sometime in 2018, after a series of delays related to mapping and contractual considerations. The Government has pledged the full network will be rolled out and operational between three and five years from when its rollout begins. Last year, Communications Minister Denis Naughten upgraded the broadband standard to fibre grade, capable of speeds of 1,000Mbs.
The 300,000 homes to be connected by Eir will be based on fibre-to-the-home, according to the Eir spokesman.
Research by Amarach shows one in four rural dwellers say they "would be forced" to move to a city or large town without proper broadband. It also suggests that in rural homes that have some form of broadband, almost one in four people use the internet at home for work. And nearly 150,000 of those say they choose to avoid commuting some or all of the time because they can connect to work through the internet.