Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Broadband Plan
I wish to ask the Minister the number of completed connections made under the national broadband plan in 2020. I know he will not have complete up-to-date figures for 2021, but even indications of how the programme is going would be of use. The Minister knows how important this is for jobs and balanced regional development and in the context of increased remote working.
The national broadband plan State-led intervention will be delivered by National Broadband Ireland under a contract to roll out a high-speed and future-proofed broadband network within the intervention area, which covers 1.1 million people living and working in over 544,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms, along with 695 schools. Despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, National Broadband Ireland has made steady progress on delivery of the new high-speed fibre network under the national broadband plan. I am advised by National Broadband Ireland that as of 27 May, over 220,000 premises have been surveyed across all counties.
This survey work has enabled detailed designs to be developed for each deployment area. The detailed designs are then used to initiate the so-called make ready project with Open Eir, whereby Open Eir ensures that any poles and ducts being reused are fit for purpose and makes ready other required infrastructure. This step also informs decisions on equipment ordering. Survey data are also needed to initiate pre-works, which pave the way for the deploying of fibre. Pre-works involve the construction of new duct routes, the erection of poles, the building of chambers and tree trimming.
On completion of these pre-works, the main construction works can commence.
The first fibre-to-the-home connections have been successfully connected in Carrigaline, County Cork, and Cavan, with almost 4,000 premises passed and available for connection to date. Premises in Galway and Limerick are expected to be available for connection in the coming months. I am advised that build works are continuing across the country in 12 deployment areas covering townlands in Carrigaline, Ballinasloe, Cavan, Clare, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick, Monaghan, Roscommon, Tipperary, Tralee, Wexford and Carlow. In addition, make ready work is under way in a further 15 deployment areas.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. If I heard him correctly, he stated that 220,000 premises had been passed. Will he clarify that figure?
Some 115,00 premises should be connected to high-speed broadband by the end of 2021. Some 544,000 premises are included in the national development plan, with between 70,000 and 100,000 premises to be passed each year thereafter. I welcome that the primary schools programme is being rolled out quickly. I understand that 679 schools will be done by the end of 2022, which is good news. These connections will be welcome. I also understand that more than 90% of premises should have access to high-speed broadband by 2025. Has Covid impacted much on these deadlines? Has National Broadband Ireland, NBI, missed any of them?
The Deputy's first question was on whether the 220,000 homes had been passed. No, but they have been surveyed. The number of homes that have been passed and are ready for connection to broadband is 4,000. The first of those was connected this year in Carrigaline.
The Deputy asked whether the pandemic had delayed the deployment. The answer is "Yes". The original deployment plans for the first year will not be met. However, the deployment plans for later years will be greater. The new contract will define that acceleration.
To clarify, the first stage is the surveying of premises. Later stages eventually arrive at the point where fibre is passing the house. Of those homes, there are 4,000.
I thank the Minister of State for clarifying. However, my question was on the number of homes connected. Some 115,000 should be connected by the end of 2021. From the Minister of State's answer, I understand that a small number of houses are starting to be connected. That is welcome.
In my constituency, some 12,000 people commute out of Laois every day, which is unsustainable, and more than 7,000 commute out of Offaly. Nearly 20,000 people commute out of both counties for work. We need to get more people working from home or working in their constituencies, using technologies such as the one we are discussing.
We cannot penalise people for delays owing to Covid. That would be unreasonable. Setting that aside, though, will the Department consider penalties if deadlines are missed? What would the penalties be? Is the Minister of State confident the project will meet all of its deadlines?
The Minister appoints one member to the board of NBI. I pointed this fault out at the time. Who is the Minister's representative on NBI at the moment and how is that situation working out?
The Deputy's first point was about how working from home underlined the need for broadband. It creates greater demand, as people working from home will need more broadband for their video meetings and so on.
The Deputy asked whether there were penalty clauses. As I understand it, there are none in the current contract.
The Deputy also asked about the Minister's representative on NBI. I might defer to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, if he has an answer. I do not have the answer, but I can get the Deputy that information from my office.
Did I miss any other question?