White confirms six-month delay to rural broadband
Construction of the National Broadband Plan is to be delayed by six months, with work starting no earlier than the middle of 2017, according to the outgoing Minister of Communications, Alex White.
Mr White described the delay in connecting 750,000 rural homes and business to fibre broadband as a "minor adjustment" and said that 60pc of the network would be built by 2019.
However, the delay means that 300,000 rural homes and businesses will not now see the beginning of any state-subsidised broadband build-out to them until 2019, with completion of the network set for 2022.
"Most of that work would be done in the first two years," Mr White said. "You can appreciate that the remaining homes will take a little longer because it's more remote." Mr White said that the Department of Communications had to proceed carefully because of stringent regulatory procedures required under EU law.
"This short delay is to avoid a much longer delay," he said. "If we don't carefully follow state intervention rules, we could risk putting this back for years. But we should be able to sign a contract around the middle of the next year."
He said that completion of the state-subsidised scheme would happen by 2022 "at the outside".
The contract to build the network out to 750,000 rural homes and businesses could be worth upwards of €500m in state funding, with the government seeking an unspecified amount of matching investment from winning tender bidders.
Mr White said that the government was currently considering bid proposals from five companies. These are understood to include pitches from Eir and Siro, the joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB.
Independent TDs and rural lobby groups have heavily criticised the delayed process, arguing that their communities are losing out in investment and economic opportunity.
The chief executive of Eir, Richard Moate, said that the telecoms company will extend its broadband network to reach 300,000 of the 750,000 rural homes and businesses targeted by the state plan. However, he said it would not be completed for four years.