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New delay to broadband rollout for rural primary schools


Peter Hendrick of National Broadband Ireland

Peter Hendrick of National Broadband Ireland

Peter Hendrick of National Broadband Ireland

The roll-out of high-speed broadband to 679 rural primary schools will not be completed until the middle of next year.

National Broadband Ireland (NBI), the company responsible for building the State-subsidised rural broadband plan, had initially set a target of connecting schools by the end of 2022.

Under an accelerated plan, NBI sought to fast-track the delivery of broadband to rural schools to help them “participate fully in the digital revolution that is taking place”.

Around 50,000 primary school children will benefit. So far, 100 schools have been connected and a new completion date for next year has been set.

The majority of the schools will have wireless connections by the end of April 2023 and the remainder will have fibre connection by the middle of next year.

The company revealed it is connecting 200 premises a day, with 6,572 connected to date.

Recent figures show 54,512 premises can now order fibre broadband within the intervention area of 554,000 rural homes and businesses.

NBI has a mandate to roll out broadband to all counties at once, but chief executive Peter Hendrick said: “There are locations we may look to strategically accelerate.

“We’ve taken the islands off the coast as a programme and we’re looking at what infrastructure we can use to get connectivity on the islands and connect premises on the islands.

“We want to ensure we never have to go into the home – and, depending on the size of the island, we will run fibre on the island to connect all the homes.

“The benefit of that is there are locations we may look to strategically accelerate.

“We’re also looking at areas where we can take forward parts of the network which might be close to existing fibres.

“I think 2pc of premises in Dublin don’t have access to high-speed broadband and we are looking at some of those premises to try and get to those locations.”

Mr Hendrick said that while working on every county simultaneously was “not the most efficient way to build”, NBI wanted to ensure everybody was seeing some progress.

“In the early days, some are getting it earlier than others in a county, but over time it will balance out,” he said.

“We are looking to see if we can get the processes more efficient with each of the local authorities and we’re trying to see if there is a way of streamlining. We may do some pilots in that regard.”

Mr Hendrick said that despite the delays experienced, the NBI was on target for completion by the end of 2026.

Some of the main challenges facing the company are the cost of construction and machinery, and health and safety protocols.

“Some of those you can’t avoid and others you might look to see if there’s a more optimum way,” he said.

The company had also been affected by Section 254 planning laws governing permission for erection of poles, which led to further delays during the pandemic.

“At the same time we were submitting applications in 2020, you had a massive number of retail outlets putting in for outdoor dining,” Mr Hendrick said.

Private landowners have also objected to poles being placed in certain areas.

While the roll-out is behind its original target, NBI is still confident of connecting more than 554,000 premises by the end of 2026 as part of its seven-year build programme.

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