Thursday, 16 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Broadband Plan
10. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the reason an area (details supplied) is one of the few areas in the country not to have been prioritised to date in the implementation of the national broadband plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44059/21]
My question relates to my constituency, Cork North-Central, one of the few areas in the country not to have been prioritised to date in the implementation of the national broadband plan. Will the Minister make a statement on the matter? The area is within a radius of 10 miles to 12 miles of Cork city.
I expect that, increasingly, all Deputies will be concerned about the availability of broadband in their area, whether in rural or urban areas. The national broadband plan is one of the largest infrastructural projects in the history of the State. It is one over which I have some oversight and about which I am very optimistic. I think the fundamentals for this project are much stronger than they were when it was launched.
The Deputy asked about Cork North-Central and when the plan is due to be implemented there. I refer him to the National Broadband Ireland, NBI, website. I have requested that NBI provide more data for people who have exactly this question because up to now, it has indicated just at some point in the future, beyond two years, but times are narrowing and becoming accurate for each area. The Cork North-Central area covers a number of deployment areas, each of which is coming in at a different time. The country is divided into 227 deployment areas. In Cork North-Central, Midleton is one of the first and has a completion date of 2022. Fermoy, which covers areas of Bridestown, Glenagoul, Raheen Cross, Knocknacurran and Tinageragh, is intended for 2024, while Templemartin, including Inniscarra, Carrigyknaveen, Carrigrohane, Coolatubbrid and Magoola, is intended for completion in 2024. Grenagh, which is the final deployment area, is intended for 2026. They are the specific areas and their expected times.
In the meantime, we are deploying broadband connection points, which allow people who need access to broadband to get it in a public area. Beyond that, we are also connecting primary schools. Every primary school in the country will be connected to high-speed broadband by the end of next year. Specifically, in Cork North-Central, Courtbrack community centre and Whitechurch community centre are live broadband connection points. If the Deputy has other ideas for where there could be broadband connection points, he might contact my office and I will be happy to try to advance them. I also have a copy of the list of schools in the area that are live and those that are due to be live soon.
The report my office received from NBI in the past week suggested that Inniscarra, Kerry Pike, Clogheen, Tower, Blarney, Grenagh, Whitechurch, White's Cross and Carrignavar will not even be considered until 2025. I have seen the map, which was also made available to me, and it appears that about 80% of the constituency, which is within a radius of 10 miles or 12 miles of the city, will not even have a survey carried out until 2025. That is my concern.
I am surprised that it is that far down the list in terms of work being carried out given that there is a large population and new housing going in. That is the most recent report I have received in the past week.
There are four deployment areas covering Cork North-Central. It is a constituency with differences in that there urban and rural areas. Of those deployment areas, one is to be completed by 2022, two by 2024 and the last by 2026. Surveys are ongoing across Cork county. It was homes in Cork that were connected first to the network. The nature of the deployment is that it starts at the metropolitan area network or at the exchange and is built out from there, so each section is done in sequence. I know the Department has been engaging to try to accelerate the process and to bring those in years six and seven into years four and five. That would change the deployment plan. The plan that is online at the moment where people can see when they are due is subject to change all the time. NBI will contact people if there are changes to that plan.
Part of the area to which the Minister referred is in Cork East and some of the Midleton area is coming into Cork North-Central. I wish to ask the Minister about targets for 2020, 2021 and 2022. I acknowledge that Covid had an effect and that the target set in 2021 as regards the number of connections will not be reached, but can changes be made to make sure that those targets can be reached at least, if not exceeded, towards the end of 2021 and especially in 2022?
We had the NBI before the committee yesterday and it might be useful to relay some of what I heard clearly from it. Some of it has been well recounted. One of the major issues now and into the future is the piece between the engagement between the NBI and the local authorities. We heard accounts of their experiences. There has been some progress on section 24s, but one goes to the planning department for the poles, to transportation for the road opening licences and sometimes to different municipal districts. What I heard is that there is a need for a single point of contact within the local authority to expedite the various applications, not just from the NBI but the other partner organisations involved. That is something that would be very important to do at this stage to help the roll-out of the national broadband plan.
That is a useful contribution. I understand the NBI was before the communications committee yesterday discussing these topics.
Deputy Colm Burke asked how the roll-out plan is going and when there will be a catch-up. The NBI was asked that specific question yesterday and its answer was that it expects that it will catch up by 2023. There are delays. The number of homes that have been passed is approximately only going to be half of what it should have been by the end of this year and a large portion of that is due to Covid restrictions and the inability to get the staff to get to the places during that time. It is not just an excuse because it has affected the commercial operators that I have been speaking to, who have had the same problems outside of the Government contract. We have a squeeze on at the start and then we are trying to accelerate at the end so it is a complex project to get it done.