Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Broadband Plan
14. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the remedial actions under the national broadband plan contract his Department has put in place with NBI to address the impact Covid-19 has had on the delivery of the project; and the way he plans to accelerate the program in the months ahead. [43996/21]
Mayo is one of the counties with the highest number of premises in the intervention areas of the national broadband plan; in fact, it is third after Cork and Galway. It is equally high in terms of the percentage of households within the county which are in the intervention area. As a result, any delay to the rollout impacts our county much more significantly. I have been repeatedly calling for efforts to accelerate the rollout of the project, which is likely to be the most important public infrastructure project in living memory. I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to outline those efforts.
Again, I refer the Deputy to the meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications with National Broadband Ireland, NBI, yesterday, where some of these issues were discussed, certainly from the point of view of NBI on the acceleration of the rollout. The programme for government states that the Government will attempt to compress the length of time for the rollout from seven years to five years, in other words, to brings years six and seven into years four and five. At the same time, because of the pandemic, we had delays at the start, so we are playing catch-up at one end of the rollout and we are trying to compress at the other end.
What are the efforts we are making? We are engaging with our contractor, NBI, and my Department is trying to come up with a realistic plan that can allow an acceleration of the number of homes that are connected per month.
The number will be roughly 8,000 per month at full rate, up to 16,000 per month in order to reach all 544,000 homes within five years instead of seven years. You can see a parallel between the roll-out of the vaccination programme where you have an initial period of time when you are carrying out surveys, when you are doing initial works or when you are constrained for whatever reason at the start and then you ramp up to a period where you have many teams delivering a lot of equipment based on a lot of initial work being done.
One of the first things that has to be done is that every home in the deployment area has to be surveyed. There are 544,000 premises. Half of them have been surveyed at this stage. That survey work shows nothing. You are not getting your deployment area. What one will see with this roll-out will be an acceleration. In the first year, nobody was connected. In the second year, we began to connect homes in Carrigaline and Cavan, but in future years we will be moving apace.
I thank the Minister of State. There is a real frustration and an impatience among the people in Mayo, especially around the anticipation and the lack of visibility of NBI on the ground. I appreciate that there was over 4,800 households in Mayo who are expected to be connected at the end of this year. What we were listening to yesterday in the committee meeting and again today is that there is now a revised, more realistic plan without any information. What we need now as public representatives is to assure our communities that this is coming and that we have accurate and realistic timelines. Remote working has made a huge contribution to local communities in Mayo but we need high-speed fibre to enable people to work from home. There are over 36,000 premises in Mayo that need this and they are counting on the Government to deliver it.
Not everybody in Mayo will be connected at the same time. The connections will start at the exchanges and move outwards. There will be different deployment areas and some areas will come on stream before others.
I have asked NBI to provide the most detailed information that it can, and it has provided more. I want it to be realistic with people and state that they are, at present, five years or whatever away so that people would see and be able to make decisions based on that. In the meantime, we can connect broadband connection points. The Deputy can get his local GAA club or community hall connected up so that that can be a hub. It is a temporary solution while one is waiting for the roll-out to arrive. Also, we are connecting all the primary schools and they will be done by next year.
I am happy to go out to Mayo and to meet with people there or to visit particular areas. I am also happy to give the Deputy the most detailed information I can on how we have done on surveys in Mayo, or which areas are due next. I would welcome any suggestions from the Deputy on how I could present the data better as I want to be as open as possible on this project all the time.
I thank the Minister of State. I will take him up on that offer. I have engaged with NBI and the information has been shared at any request.
The delivery of this will be a true game-changer in rural Ireland. The Minister of State is doing everything possible within the Department to get this done as quickly as possible. The importance of this for rural communities cannot be understated.
On the likes of the hubs that have been implemented along with the local authorities, there is still a bit of work to be done on that but I welcome the allocation of funding to support that by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.
We just need to keep the pressure on NBI, the contractor, to ensure that it delivers on its commitments on a yearly and monthly basis and that that can be followed up through the Minister of State's office and through us on the ground dealing with queries.
There has already been mention of the fact that NBI was in front of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications yesterday. I suppose the welcome news is we are now at a stage where the entire plan, at least the seven-year plan, is there on the website for all to see. We are talking about two matters. We are talking about the acceleration from seven to five years and we are talking about the catch-up in relation to Covid. At present, there is a seven-year plan but the hope is that within the next six to nine months, NBI will have a better idea of when it will be able to do that catch-up and when it will be able to do that acceleration. Deputy O'Rourke stated straightly as they said it that we need to ensure then that all resources are in place. That will mean that local authorities have the capacity that is required. Beyond that, we will have to offer people alternatives.
For a start, in response to Deputy Dillon, the management of the NBI contract is very important at this point. It is important, for example, that all penalty clauses are applied where they are legally due. I have told my project team not to show any kindness towards the contractor and to let it know that we will be setting a standard that all penalty clauses are applied where they are due.
In terms of managing it, etc., I visited Monaghan to see NBI installing some of the cable with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, in her area. I spent a lot of time in the west of Ireland this summer visiting broadband connection points and I spoke to people there. I could see the huge impact that has socially that people have a place to gather. I would encourage Deputy Dillon to pursue the broadband connection point option as an interim solution and I will help the Deputy in that regard. The same applies to Deputy O'Rourke.