More than 55,000 properties in Galway have no access to high-speed broadband, and some may not have until 2022, according to Communications Minister Denis Naughten.
A fortnight ago, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources confirmed that the €275m National Broadband Plan will be delayed due to issues with procurement.
The DCENR stated that it remained committed to finding a suitable client for the Irish market, which would safeguard Irish broadband systems, and provide adequate and evolving assurances into the future.
“It is such a complex procedure and a complex contract,” said Minister Naughten, speaking to the Galway Advertiser.
“The department received five tenders involving 40 different companies and there is a large quantity of material.
“We don’t want a legal challenge in relation to an unsuccessful tender because if that happens, it is going to delay the process significantly, so in order to ensure that, the department looked for an extra five months to assess all the documentation.”
This will be of no consolation to rural dwellers or business owners, however, as they may be forced to wait up to five years for the broadband rollout to be completed, as the start date has now been pushed back to mid 2017.
“The contractors are saying publicly that they can roll this out over three years, but it will take somewhere between three and five years to complete the rollout. However, we expect that within two years of signing a contract that 60 per cent of homes in rural Ireland would be connected to high-speed broadband.”
More than 80 per cent of Irish households subscribe to a wired or wireless broadband provider, and Deputy Naughten wants to change this.
“We want a broadband service that is significantly better than what they are subscribing to at the moment and we are going to give it to them at the same price.”
The National Broadband Plan in context
In Galway, every two in five properties cannot receive broadband.
At the moment, there are 56,190 premises with zero access to high-speed broadband, and according to Minister Naughten, 62,540 properties “don’t have broadband to the standard that we [the department] want to see put in place.”
On the other hand, there are 55,065 properties that have 100 per cent access, but almost 40,000 of these are located in the city centre, which is proportionally uneven given the size of the county, and number of inhabitants who live in rural areas.
These rural areas could face the longest waiting times too because of issues with access on small country roads, planning permits, and the small amount of people that tend to stay in isolated country areas.
“This programme is to bring high-speed broadband to every home in Ireland, and that cannot happen overnight,” said Minister Naughten.
Popular tourist destinations, such as Roundstone and Inisheer, rank two and three on a list of most populated places without access to broadband.
There are a total of 133,149 listed premises throughout the county, of which 42 per cent (56,190 ) remain unconnected, and 29 per cent (38,495 ) make up the city centre.
Fewer than 13 per cent (16,570 ) of homes outside of the city centre are connected and rates are highest in big towns, such as Oranmore, Loughrea, and Athenry, while places like Killeany, and Corofin, cannot received any broadband in the area.
Rural communities have a right to be dismayed by the thought that that are not served by vital 21st century services, especially since the NBP had originally proposed to connect 1.8m people in more than 750,000 locations by the end of 2016.
The Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA ) published a research report which found that access to broadband was “one of the most significant challenges faced by rural communities, particularly from a business perspective.”
And with more companies setting up online, as a means of promotion, or to sell products through an online store, broadband coverage and connection levels have never been more important.
President of Macra na Feirme, Sean Finan, writing for the Irish Independent, made a comparison between urban and rural broadband capabilities, stating that “rural communities are consistently experiencing speeds of less than 1Mbs during peak usage times, while their urban counterparts are capable of receiving 360Mbs in some areas.”
He also suggested that this disparity in broadband connections, while influencing business decisions, will drive rural-urban migration, along with further destroying the social life of rural townlands throughout the country.
It has also been claimed that the minimum 30Mb of broadband, which the NBP committed to, is well below average, and that by the time of completion in 2022, these levels will not be sufficient and will need of further upgrading.
“The average will have to be much higher than the guaranteed minimum of 30Mbs,” said Minister Naughten. “Built into the contract is a review every three to five years in relation to broadband speeds and updates.”
Engineering Ireland has stated that the NBP needs to aim higher, with the lowest levels of 100Mb being made available throughout the country.