Pandemic an ‘excuse’ for delays in rural broadband roll-out – Verona Murphy

Independent TD Verona Murphy has raised concerns over the delays in rolling out the National Broadband Plan, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the Dáil this week, the Wexford TD asked the Minister for Climate Action and Communications Eamon Ryan what his plans are on fast-tracking the National Broadband Plan.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of good and reliable broadband to ensure that all citizens, in all parts of Ireland, can avail of remote working, education and other essential online services,” she said.

“When a statement includes the phrases ‘explore the feasibility of accelerating aspects of the national broadband plan roll-out’ or the ‘possibility of bringing forward premises currently scheduled for year six or seven to an earlier date’, those words mean one thing to me – namely, that it will never happen.

“We want the businesses in rural Ireland to stay there. The written response [from Eamon Ryan] stated that the pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network.

The minister has explained that it is because we cannot get people to install it and people cannot travel from England. People are beginning to see that excuse as worse than GDPR. There are now three sets of excuses being used when it comes to government contracts: GDPR; Covid-19; and, I assume, Brexit.

The deputy also asked if any changes that are proposed would require “detailed technical, commercial and financial analysis” and if the cost of not having broadband for those who require it be included.

“Those affected may include a business that is trying to complete customs documentation for Brexit; or a student who may feel his or her life hangs in the balance if he or she cannot receive online tuition,” she added.

Minister Ryan said that the “commitment and the desire to meet the objectives of the National Broadband Plan are absolutely concrete and clear”.

The desire to try to accelerate it, in part by what has happened with Covid-19 and the importance of having connectivity for people working remotely, is very real.

“While substantial progress has been made to date, the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the delivery of the fibre network.

“The extent of this impact is currently being assessed and NBI [National Broadband Ireland] has committed to put in place measures to mitigate the impact in as far as possible.”