The delay to the rollout of the National Broadband Plan is a “death knell” for rural communities across the country, it has been claimed.
The Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources confirmed the €275m scheme, which promised to deliver high-speed broadband to 750,000 homes and businesses by 2020, will not start as planned this year.
The plan aims to bring broadband to 85% of premises by 2018 and cover the entire country by 2020.
The contract for the scheme was due to be awarded later this year, but the department has said it will now not happen until early 2017.
As rollout of the plan will take between three and five years, the decision means the plan may not be completed until 2022 — a decade after it was announced.
The department said it has received five bids for the first stage of the tender for the contract but stressed it was a “complicated process”. However, it said the broadband network remained a priority and it was seeking “the fastest possible deployment”.
Independent TD for Tipperary Mattie McGrath said the stalled plan was a “death knell” for rural communities.
“Yet again, we are witnessing an absurd delay in the rollout of a scheme that was supposed to be up and running by 2020. It is now clearly apparent that no real appreciation of the fundamental importance of broadband for rural Ireland has ever really existed at government level,” he said.
Galway-Roscommon Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said there was not much point including the revival of rural Ireland in any future programme for government if the broadband programme was held up for three to five years.
“I am very disappointed to hear today that close to a million people in rural areas might have to wait up to six years for a proper broadband service. At present up to 40% of the country does not have a proper broadband service which is just not good enough,” he said.
Director of policy at Ibec, Fergal O’Brien, said the delay was “disappointing” and it underscored the need for a new government to be formed as soon as possible.
Dave McDonald, managing director of Nova Broadband, which provides high-quality broadband service in rural areas, said the delay was not surprising.
“It comes as no surprise to me and I would expect that it won’t be the last delay. The project is hugely ambitious — the State is pushing for fibre to every building in the State. Nothing like it has ever been done anywhere before.
“This project is similar to rural electrification which took 30 years.
“The State has a history of massively overrunning on budgets and time-frames on infrastructural projects and has no commercial mandate to operate efficiently,” he said.
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