Thursday, 4 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
National Broadband Plan
7. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the current status of plans to fast-track the national broadband plan; the impact this will have on Ireland's carbon emissions' profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49960/21]
I will not ask the Minister of State to read out the same reply again, so I will go to my supplementary questions if that is okay with you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. It will leave time for other Members. I will take nóiméad amháin.
The Minister of State made the point in his earlier reply to me that part of the reason for the delays was because of tree trimming, ducting and so forth. Eir achieved the targets to date, as the single biggest subcontractor to NBI. It subcontracted out the work to the exact same subcontractors that are working for NBI, but the difference was that Eir was working on existing infrastructure that did not require consent or approval from Irish Rail, local authorities or Transport Infrastructure Ireland. That is a significant problem. Why did it take 21 months after the signing of the contract for guidelines to be issued to local authorities to streamline the authorisation process?
We are told that there will be primary legislation to support those guidelines. When will we see it?
As I have said, there are very different circumstances to the roll-out of the NBI fibre and the work being done by other organisations, such as the work Eir is doing to its own existing network. NBI is a new company coming into the market. It is trying to connect people who have previously not been connected. It has a lot of new works to be done and it does not have an existing relationship with suppliers that other people have. That does not mean that its excuses for delays are reasonable and it does not mean that it does not get penalty clauses applied for the delays that happen, but there is a learning from those. My focus will be to ensure that the delivery is accelerated, which it has done. If we look at other projects such as the vaccine roll-out, we will see there are periods of time where the ramp-up happens. In this case where the surveys are carried out, initial work is carried out and lessons are learned before a much larger rate of roll-out is achieved at later points.
Deputy Naughten specifically asked me when legislation will be brought in to support guidelines for how NBI works with local authorities. Not all of that requires primary legislation or even legislation at all. Some of it just requires sensible work practices and people being brought together. As the Deputy indicated, the task force is going to be the answer to a lot of that. I will come back to him on whether specific primary legislation is to be introduced to support this and give him some timelines around that.
If the Deputy wishes to make suggestions on how that should be done, I am absolutely happy to help him with that.
In general, though, the project is getting back on track and the rate of delivery has greatly increased. I expect that by next year, 140,000 homes will have been passed. At the same time we are delivering this we are also ensuring we have a targeted campaign to encourage people to take up the service, as passing a house with fibre is not equivalent to the occupants signing up or agreeing to take the connection.
The problem is we have not had the sensible co-operation over the past 24 months. The Minister of State tells us today he expects 140,000 homes to be passed by the end of next year and the budget documentation we got a couple of weeks ago told us it would be 130,000, meaning only 10,000 more homes will be passed next year compared with this year. Where is the ramping up of this process?
I have a final point that the Minister of State can take up directly and I ask him to do so with the European Commission. The definition of high-speed broadband at European Commission level is 30 Mbps and there is no family in this country that would believe 30 Mbps is high-speed broadband. If the definition could be increased to 150 Mbps, 500 Mbps or 1 Gbps, it would stimulate private investment, as we have already seen. It would also ensure NBI could intervene where the private sector will not. That single step would help to address the overall deficit across the country.
I am delighted that we are repeatedly seeing pressure being put on here for quicker delivery of the national broadband plan. Both I and Deputy Naughten know this was fought tooth and nail within the House by people seeking to obstruct it.
I raise a serious element of Deputy Naughten's question, specifically the impact this will have on carbon emissions. My experience has been that official Ireland dismissed the transformative impact on carbon emissions that this infrastructure could have. It says something about our evaluation system in a world seeking to move to zero carbon emissions that our public evaluation of projects like this does not take into account the transformative impact on climate.
The influence on climate action is partly because people can work from home and would not have to travel so far. Additionally, the network essentially works on light and takes less power to operate. There are many benefits.
He is right and we should have better data. The Deputy asked about the baseline definition of high-speed broadband and there is a target being developed in the EU currently for gigabit broadband by 2030. I do not know if the Deputy is familiar with that. There probably should be an intermediate target but it is what people are heading towards.
Every country has some version of a national broadband plan. I have not met any communications minister from any country with a more ambitious plan than ours. Most of them are going for some form of wireless as their final delivery. Wireless technology is good but it is just not upgradable to the levels we are trying to achieve, as we are eventually looking at 25 Gbps.