National Broadband Plan ‘is at least 10 to 12 years away’

The National Broadband Plan is at least 10 to 12 years away from completion, given all the obstacles that must be overcome to implement it, a broadband expert has warned.

Chief executive of Cork-headquartered Nova Broadband and Nova Telecom, Dave McDonald said that even with every stakeholder pulling in the same direction to have broadband introduced to every home in Ireland, a three to five-year timeframe was unrealistic given the challenges. Mr McDonald, whose companies have provided broadband for thousands of homes and businesses in regional Ireland, said: “The National Broadband Plan is a good thing for the country. To be fair, the plan has whipped the commercial sector into shape, with the rolling out of rural fibre.

“However, the general consensus in the industry among people talking quietly to each other about it is that it will take 10 to 12 years to get to the level of connectivity that the department is talking about,” he said. Ireland’s long-mooted broadband plan has been beset by delays and a contract has still not been awarded to one of the three original bidders of Eir, Siro and Enet. Siro is a joint venture between Vodafone and ESB.

It pulled out of the plan in September. Despite Eir’s investment into homes and businesses reaching 1.9 million by the end of next year, more than 500,000 homes would still have no coverage. The plan is government policy which aims to deliver high-speed broadband to every citizen and business.

It aims to achieve 100% coverage in three to five years of the start of large-scale introduction. The plan will now apply to 540,000 homes or 21% of the population, many of which are considered to be in difficult-to-reach areas for broadband companies. A decision on a contract has been delayed because of complications related to State subsidies and other factors.

Experts now say it could cost up to EUR1bn instead of the EUR275m initially set aside by the Government, and that it means the project may not get off the ground. Mr McDonald said: “Minister Denis Naughten is enthusiastic, but has a lot of constraints. You have the EU state aid rules, potential legal challenges and more.

I think the public needs to adjust its expectations of the National Broadband Plan. “I know what is involved in rolling out a network. There is no way it can be done in five years.”

n Extended interview with Dave McDonald in next Monday’s Irish Examiner

(C) Irish Examiner Ltd.

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