It has emerged that the National Broadband Plan may not be completed until 2022, two years later than promised.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has said that a new national broadband contract would not be signed until 2017 (it was originally meant to be signed this year).

Under the National Broadband Plan (NBP), the Government committed to delivering high-speed broadband access to every home, school and business in the country by 2020, regardless of where they are located.

Responding to the news that rural broadband is to be delayed again, Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin’s agriculture spokesman said that these days not having broadband is like not having a telephone.

It is an essential service in order to do business, to avail of distance learning, to keep yourself informed and to keep in touch socially.

“Government continues to operate a policy whereby rural Ireland can wait. It is not good enough and it is discriminatory.

“The Rural Equality Bill which I introduced last year aims to make public bodies take account of the effects of their measures on rural life and to stop this kind of treatment of people living outside the big towns and cities.”

Meanwhile, Independent TD Mattie McGrath has castigated the acting Minister for Communications Alex White for overseeing what he has termed a disastrous stewardship of the roll-out of rural broadband.

Deputy McGrath was speaking after the Minister confirmed that the State’s plan may not be delivered for at least six years.

Yet again we are witnessing an absurd delay in the roll-out of a Scheme that was supposed to be up and running by 2020

“It is now clearly apparent that no real appreciation of the fundamental importance of broadband for rural Ireland has ever really existed at government level.

Furthermore, Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice, has said that there is not much point including the revival of rural Ireland in any future programme for Government if the broadband programme is held up for three to five years.

“One of the basic requirements for homes and businesses in rural Ireland, if there is to be a revival in the fortunes of the rural economy, is a proper broadband service and this is something that I have been very strong on since the first day I was elected.

“I am very disappointed to hear today that close to a million people in rural areas might have to wait up to six years for a proper broadband service.”

At present up to 40% of the country does not have a proper broadband service which is just not good enough.

Fitzmaurice said that any new administration will have to set this national rural broadband programme as one of its main priorities and until we have a proper service to all areas of the country we cannot claim to be helping to revive rural Ireland.

“In addition, a proper mobile phone service in all areas of the country has to be the priority of any possible new administration.

“The situation that exists now whereby people have intermittent or in some cases no coverage at all is not acceptable in this day and age.”