Broadband connections available in 13 counties by year-end

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Peter Hendrick, managing director of National Broadband Ireland, said fiber-optic broadband would be available for connection in 13 counties before the end of the year.

He was speaking on Prime Time after it emerged that only 3,335 homes and businesses had connected to high-speed internet as part of the National Broadband Plan (NBP) since its rollout began 22 months ago.

The premises that have been connected are located in Cavan, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Monaghan.

Mr Hendrick said: “By the end of this year we will have 13 counties where people can order and connect. And over the next few months all 26 counties will see homes connected to this life changing infrastructure. . “

When asked if the national broadband territory in Ireland was under financial pressure and “running on steam”, Mr Hendrick replied: “We are not. We are very confident in our ability to roll out the program, walk through the houses and eventually connect the houses. “

He added: “We are absolutely clear that we can build this network over the next five years.”

He said the Covid 19 pandemic has contributed to delays in rolling out the national broadband plan.
He said: “When you look at a national program, it’s hard to understand all the risks and the time. “

The multi-billion euro program aims to provide broadband to more than 540,000 premises. But figures obtained by Prime Time show that only a tiny fraction of them have been connected to date.

Hailed as the largest infrastructure project since rural electrification, the program aims to bring broadband to 23% of the population over seven years.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Communications told Prime Time that 3,335 premises were connected. These houses and businesses are located in Cavan, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Monaghan.

The spokesperson said National Broadband Ireland (NBI) – the company responsible for rolling out the project – started connecting premises in May 2021 on a trial basis, with around 20 connections per week. This has grown to 70 homes and businesses per day. This figure will continue to increase until 2022.

The ministry said 1,500 more connection orders are currently being processed.

Homes and businesses have been connected in Cavan, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Monaghan

However, NBI is behind on its initial deployment targets.

In September, Hendrick told an Oireachtas committee in September that the target of crossing 115,000 homes and businesses by the end of January had been cut in half to around 60,000 premises.

Among the reasons given for the delays include the Covid-19 pandemic, difficulties in accessing underground conduits and problems obtaining authorizations from local authorities to carry out work.

From the outset, the cost of the project was controversial. The State will have to pay a subsidy of 2.6 billion euros to NBI for the deployment, as well as additional costs borne by the Ministry of Communication.

“The cost of our plan, according to a recent report prepared for the European Commission, is the highest in Europe,” said Dr Donal Palcic, senior lecturer in economics at the University of Limerick.

In the field, some are increasingly frustrated by the long wait for broadband.

The 2020 lockdown saw Irish farming life catapulted into a new era with the arrival of online livestock markets. Roscommon man Thomas Carthy was one of the farmers sitting with his laptop trying to buy livestock using unreliable broadband service.

“You are bidding on an animal. You thought you bought the animal and, maybe two minutes later, you found out – no. The animal went somewhere else because your Internet connection was interrupted or your Internet connection was interrupted. frozen, “Carthy told Prime Time.

The Covid-19 pandemic is partly responsible for the delays in deployment

“If you have a delay in your service, this animal could be bought under you!” “

Thomas, his wife Siobhán and their two daughters had recurring problems with their internet service during the lockdown while they were all online at the same time.

“We discovered in stages that someone should turn off because we couldn’t all be turned on together,” said Mr Carthy, who lives near Shannonbridge.

Like many Irish families, Carthy’s journey began with dial-up internet and then moved on to cellular dongles. They have tried a number of internet providers.

They are now using broadband satellite service, which is better than before.

The signal “nonetheless floats depending on weather conditions such as rain, frost, fog and wind,” Carthy said.

He expected high-speed optical fiber to enter his home this year.

Like thousands of others, he was shocked when he recently found out on the National Broadband Ireland website that he was not due to be connected for some time between January 2025 and December 2026.

State to provide National Broadband Ireland with € 2.6 billion deployment grant

“It will be 2025 minimum. And they gave themselves a window of 24 months. So, we are talking perhaps, from here, of 60 months. Five years is a long time to wait,” he said. he declares.

Some people in rural Ireland have waited so long for fiber optic broadband that they have opted for satellite broadband to be installed in their homes. Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Starlink company is one of the new providers of satellite broadband to Irish households. Starlink’s service costs € 99 per month.

So, given the slow pace of deployment of the national broadband plan, is the door left open to new satellite providers to provide rural homes first?

The National Space Center near Midleton, County Cork, is at the forefront of this new technology. A private company, it manages and operates a teleport, which is a facility that helps transmit information up and down to satellites.

Since the start of deployment, there were concerns that the national broadband plan would be overtaken by technological developments. So, is this already the case?

Rory Fitzpatrick, CEO of the National Space Center, told Prime Time there has been “very exciting” game-changing technology development.

Satellite broadband could complement the National Plan for Broadband in Remote Areas

“These are the new satellites in low orbit. Instead of flying 33,000 km, they fly 500 km. And that means the signal is stronger and much faster,” said Mr. Fitzpatrick.

“And that means their experience is much faster. There is no latency. Latency is the amount of time it takes to get up and down to the satellite.”

Low Earth Orbit Satellites mean broadband can be transmitted to places most difficult to reach with fiber optic cables. Starlink’s satellite broadband is currently being used in the remote Black Valley region of Kerry as a pilot project.

Mr. Fitzpatrick believes that satellite broadband can complement the rollout of the national broadband plan.

Broadband connection points have been established in hundreds of communities across the country by the NBI, bringing broadband to rural areas. One of these connection points was installed at the old cable station on Valentia Island in southwest Kerry.

In the 1800s, the island was at the center of global communications when the first transatlantic cable between Europe and America landed. This allowed the two continents to communicate via Morse code.

Low Earth Orbit Satellites Provide Stronger Broadband Signal

The cable station operated from 1800s to 1966 and now locals are campaigning for it to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The station is now converted into a digital hub for remote workers using broadband. Local woman Fiona Lyne, who worked in London for 10 years, now leads a six-person communications team for the International Foundation for Integrated Care from the cable station.

During the lockdown, the organization hosted virtual international conferences with up to 1,500 delegates.

“It was very reassuring to be able to count on broadband. We had no issues with the pandemic and the ability to connect with people from countries like New Zealand and Canada. “

Broadband has revived the old cable station and brought it back to the forefront of global communications.

“Broadband is what can transform rural Ireland,” said Lyne.

This is a common view for many people, whose long waits to connect continues.

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