Only 6,000 connected to date but National Broadband boss claims progress on rollout

The CEO of National Broadband Ireland told TDs and Senators that 54,450 households can now order the state-subsidised rural broadband. Peter Hendrick then denied that any taxpayer cash had gone to fund bid costs.

NBI CEO, Peter Hendrick

Adrian Weckler

The CEO of the National Broadband Plan’s rollout company has told an Oireachtas Joint Committee that 54,450 premises can now order its fibre broadband within the intervention area of 554,000 rural homes and businesses.

Peter Hendrick said of these, 38,000 are immediately connectable with the others to be available in a number of weeks.

However, he added that only 6,000 homes have actually signed up and receiving the broadband.

Mr Hendrick said that while the rollout is behind its original target of 115,000 at this point, it is catching up with regard “premises constructed or under construction”. He said that this figure is now 154,000, compared to 180,000 which “the original plan would have seen us at”.

He said that over 50 retail broadband providers have signed up to resell its wholesale fibre broadband and that NBI expects “at least” 30pc takeup in areas where it is rolled out.

Mr Hendrick said that NBI has not applied for any relief funding or measures for “encroachment” by Eir or other operators into the state-approved intervention area. Some reports have suggested Eir will seek to connect as many as 45,000 of the rural homes in the intervention area.

“We’re not seeing significant encroachment,” said Mr Hendrick. “It’s not a change request we’ve made to the Department of Communications.

Under the terms of the contract, NBI is entitled to draw on a fund of up to €100m in relation to issues such as encroachment if it can demonstrate potential commercial loss as a result of it.

Last week, National Broadband Ireland said that it had introduced a new top speed of 2Gbs and would soon connect six islands off the coast of Mayo and Donegal.

“Almost 294,000 premises have been surveyed, of which, over 252,000 are designed or are in detailed design,” he said.

“These activities are vital precursors to the main build and are continuing at pace. It’s the survey and design activities that are creating the pipeline for the build works and ultimately, for premises to be passed.”

Mr Hendrick also denied that NBI had used any of the €127m of taxpayer funds so far received to pay or reimburse shareholders in relation to bid costs.

“I want to make it abundantly clear and categorically put on the record that the subsidy provided by the State is in satisfaction of NBI delivering defined milestones under the project agreement,” he said. “NBI has not been and will not be paid by the State if it does not deliver these milestones. As a business, we are concerned about a series of inaccuracies and misleading claims in certain media reports surrounding our shareholdings and broader financial matters, most notably reporting that suggests subsidy payments to NBI were somehow used for reimbursing shareholders for bid costs associated with the tender process.”

Mr Hendrick said that NBI is currently trying to attract at least one new “large, long term” investor.

“NBI does not need those new investors as the current investment is committed,” he said. “But we want to have investors that area committed to NBI in the long term.”

He said that the company behind the NBP has ambitions to pitch other state fibre rollouts around Europe when it completes the Irish NBP rollout.

Asked by Committee chairperson Kieran O’Donnell whether that meant the state might be paying for staff now that would be used to pitch for future projects around Europe unconnected to Ireland’s rollout, Mr Hendrick said that this was not the case.

“NBI remains a standalone project,” he said.