National Broadband Plan may not be completed until 2022 - ten years after launch

The setback means that completion of the rollout plan may not happen until 2022 or later

Adrian Weckler

The government has confirmed that the National Broadband Plan, which promised subsidised modern internet to 750,000 non-urban homes and businesses by 2020, will not start this year as planned.

The setback means that completion of the rollout plan may not happen until 2022 or later, 10 years after the scheme was first launched.

A spokesman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources said today that the rollout has been put off due to the postponement of negotiations with shortlisted bidders for the process.

The news will be greeted with dismay by over a million people living outside cities and large towns in Ireland. With the process expected to take up to five years, the setback means that many rural homes may be left without adequate broadband until 2022, two years after the government’s promised delivery date and a decade after the government first launched the plan.

The contract to build the network out to 750,000 rural homes and businesses could be worth upwards of €500m of state funding, with the government seeking an unspecified amount of matching investment from winning contract bidders.

10 telecoms companies had expressed an interest in discussing the National Broadband Plan rollout with the government. Eir and Siro, the joint fibre venture between Vodafone and the ESB, are considered to be front runners to contend for the state contract. Enet, the company that manages metropolitan area networks in 94 towns around the country, has also indicated that it intends to compete for the state broadband tender.

Other companies to have expressed an interest include French-based Bouyges subsidiary Axione and Gigabit Fibre, which is fronted by the former O2 Ireland boss Danuta Gray.

Virgin Media, formerly UPC, will not compete for the National Broadband Plan tender according to its chief executive, Tony Hanway.

The number of homes and businesses under the tender could shrink, according to officials in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The officials say that if Eir proceeds with plans to build out fibre infrastructure to 300,000 of the identified 750,000 rural premises, those 300,000 premises will be withdrawn from the National Broadband Plan. Under EU competition rules, state bodies cannot intervene with services where there are viable commercial alternatives.

A spokesman for Eir said that the company regretted the postponement of the plan’s rollout.

“Eir notes the confirmation today by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that it will not now be in a position to commence negotiations with shortlisted bidders as planned this year or to award the NBP contract to the winning bidder or bidders until 2017, several months later than originally planned,” said the spokesman.

“Eir confirms that it will continue to rollout high speed broadband at pace. Today, 1.4 million homes and businesses across Ireland, can access high speed broadband. This will rise to 1.6 million, or 70pc of the country by June of this year, and will reach 1.9 million premises as soon as possible thereafter.”