Thursday, October 14, 2021

The rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) has come in for stinging criticism as it emerged that just 27,000 homes are currently in a position to be connected to the network.

Representatives from the Department of the Environment, Climate, and Communications, which awarded the contract to sole bidder Granahan McCourt in 2019, will appear before at the Oireachtas Public Accounts committee (PAC) on Thursday morning.

The chair of PAC Brian Stanley said the NBP “won’t be available at the end of the decade at the rate we’re going” and he bemoaned the progress to date as “totally unsatisfactory”.

“I foresee a lot of difficulties with this. It needs to be explained how the final target for this plan is going to be met,” he said.

According to The Irish Examiner, the NBP’s initial target for delivery by the end of 2021 had been 115,000 homes. The 27,000 delivered to date equates to just 23 per cent of that figure.

The head of the Department of the Environment is expected to tell the PAC that National Broadband Ireland, the company formed by the contractor to deliver on the plan, now expects to make the network available to “almost 60,000” homes before the end of the year.

Mark Griffin, the department’s secretary-general, will tell the committee that the rollout of the plan “has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic”, despite telecommunications activity deemed essential work throughout lockdown.

The NBP is expected to deliver high-speed broadband, with speeds of up to 150mb, to 544,000 homes and businesses by the year 2027.

However, Mr Griffin’s claim that Covid had hampered the NBP rollout was dismissed by PAC vice-chair Catherine Murphy, who said such an excuse “doesn’t hold water”.

In January, the Government cut the target rollout time for the NBP down from seven years to five or less in a move to accelerate the move to remote working.

Forsa, the public service union, said that the NBP missing its targets by such a wide margin “risks excluding many workers, businesses, and communities from the benefits”.

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