CLARITY on when National Broadband Ireland (NBI) will roll out services across Clare is urgently needed, so that people can make decisions around career and college options, a local authority briefing was told this week.
The view was expressed by Councillor Pat Hayes when officials of NBI made a virtual presentation to local authority members to outline current and future progress with the delivery of high-speed broadband to parts of Clare who currently have little to no access.
Welcoming a presentation from Joe Lavin, Chief Commercial Officer, Councillor Hayes said he was pleased that NBI had acceded so quickly to his request for information. “Your openness is welcome,” he said. “What we don’t want to have to deal with is another Eir. The real challenge now is to identify the time-frame for delivery. This is critically important. I know of students who have had to give up college courses because they’re not able to connect from home. People need to know now when they will have this service because they are making choices around work and college.”
Responding, Mr Lavin noted that the full national roll out would take up to seven years, but that there are hopes of speeding things up. “This is a mammoth task and we don’t have a magic wand,” he said. “We want to make the roll-out as equitable as possible and would look to fast-track the programme in year three or four.”
Mr Lavin outlined that 22,342 premises in Clare currently have no options for accessing high-speed broadband. “This equates to 33% of premises and Clare is not unique, the situation is similar across the country.”
Of the €2.14 billion subsidy, Mr Lavin outlined that €89 million will be invested in Clare. The impact of Covid-19 had slowed down elements of the project, Mr Lavin noted, but NBI has now returned to its original schedule.
Construction of infrastructure is currently taking place in County Limerick and is set to bring the service to parts of South Clare including Parteen and Cratloe, early next year. Mr Lavin noted that surveying is underway in Gort and Kilkishen, with construction expected to be completed in those areas next June or July.
Updating councillors on progress with Broadband Connection Points (BCP) in Clare, Mr Lavin noted that 300 connections will be delivered nationally to community locations and some schools. In Clare, BCPs have gone live in Cree and at Loop Head, as well as at the Michael Cusack Centre in Carron.
Two more BCPs are planned with Flagmount and Caherconnell set to come on stream next year. Three schools have seen connection points go live, one more is pending and a further 34 will be connected over the course of 2021 and 2022.
Mr Lavin also gave details of points of contact for public representatives and noted that NBI would be a wholesaler of high-speed broadband. The organisation is working with commercial retailers who will ultimately deliver the service to homes and businesses. He also noted that NBI is obliged to use existing infrastructure, where possible. While Eir is facilitating access network facilities, it is not one of the retail suppliers NBI is dealing with currently.
Reacting, Councillor PJ Ryan expressed the hope that the west of Ireland was not being left behind in roll out, while chair of the briefing, Councillor Pat Burke, said he would anticipate further updates from NBI throughout next year.
Councillor Alan O’Callaghan noted that, in his own case, there was as high-speed broadband service in the Kilmurry area which he was unable to avail of. He said the service for those who could avail of it was excellent. “The sites aren’t fast enough for it,” he remarked. “It’s like having a two-inch pipe, with a four-inch pipe pulling out of it.”
Councillor Cillian Murphy said he too was aware of areas where homes on one side of the road could get services from Eir, but those on the other side could not. He also suggested that NBI look at the map areas where wireless services are available and prioritise places with no service of any kind.
As an engineer, Councillor Johnny Flynn welcomed the transparency of the NBI presentation and the fact that the plan prioritised fairness of delivery.
Mr Lavin noted how “deeply frustrating” it is for consumers to see commercial providers offering services in one location and not in others close by. He said that on the NBI website, people who were within 18 months of receiving a service could use their Eircode to get an indicative connection date. He also noted that homes and businesses can phone 0818-624624 with queries about the roll out.