Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
National Broadband Plan
64. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment his plans to expedite and provide a five-year programme with expected completion dates for the roll-out of the national broadband plan to facilitate remote and blended working; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29210/21]
We have heard talk that the national broadband plan may be expedited. What dates are expected for the new programme to facilitate remote and blended working? The programme needs to show dates for areas because the detail on dates available to consumers is very vague.
Since the pandemic, the national broadband programme and its importance have been underlined for everybody. When the programme was first introduced, there were debates on whether it represented value for money, but at this stage it is well understood by everybody that broadband is essential to the running of commerce and government, and even social networks. The original objective was to implement the national broadband plan within seven years. The Government has committed to reviewing this and to finding a way to reduce the term to five years. With that in mind, considerable progress has been made with the suppliers and through Departments and negotiation on finding a way to reduce the period from seven years to five. There will be announcements in this regard shortly.
We are talking about having a five-year programme. The problem consumers have is that when they make inquiries about when they may expect to have fibre broadband in their homes, they are not being given dates. They are basically told they are at pre-survey stage. No date is forthcoming when they ask about expected dates for having broadband provided.
If a company has a programme that runs for five years or seven years, there has to be some indication or target dates for when things will be done. I was involved in the national broadband plan and I understand how it is being rolled out. However, we are a year and a half into the programme and almost 4,000 houses have been passed at this stage. That is a small number compared with the target we had set.
I understand negotiations are under way. If consumers are not going to get fibre broadband for three or four years, why can we not tell them that? They could then make alternative plans rather as there would be no mystery about the date they will get it. This is very poor. The answer given is to check the website but the website does not give dates. It is important that we have specific dates built in so that consumers know when they are going to get fibre broadband and whether it will be in two years, three years or however long.
The current position is that when a consumer asks National Broadband Ireland for information the company will provide it up to a certain point. For the coming two years, consumers can find out whether their home is in a given district and when that district is due to be done. Beyond that, the company has not provided data. One of the reasons is that the times are being shortened. The whole plan is being reworked. Another reason is that there is uncertainty in years three, four and five about exactly what point these things will be done. Premises which are due to be done in years six and seven are being brought forward into years four and five. There is a realignment of the plan. There is an analogy with the weather. It is far easier to tell more accurately in the coming six or 12 months when a consumer will be connected rather than in three years or four years.
I understand that when a district is at survey stage the company will say that once a survey has been done, consumers in the district will get a connection within 18 months. However, if the Minister is revising the plan, it is important that we tie down the contractors to what will be done and when it will be done in years three, four and five. That needs to be done now so that there is certainty for the 500,000 households which are expecting broadband. These people have been told they will get it.
We hear about a shortening of the timeframe and I welcome that. It is good news that completion dates for years six and seven are being brought forward to years four and five. It is good news that we will get it all done in five years. Nevertheless, we should remember that we need to let people know. If I do not have fibre optic broadband in my house and, as it happens, I do not, I have to look at an alternative. I have to decide what to invest in and consider the duration for which I should enter into a contract with a satellite or other provider. The main point is that people need to have certainty.
The Deputy makes a good point. The whole experience, from the point of view of the public, of finding out when a household's broadband will be connected should be clear and transparent and similar to the experience of a consumer dealing with a commercial provider. I absolutely accept that. The Deputy makes the point that he believes the contract with National Broadband Ireland should include terms along those lines. The contract is being renegotiated at the moment and we are approaching a point where we will have a new or amended contract. I will talk to the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, about how we can bring the Deputy's suggestions into effect.