It appears that the National Broadband Plan will be delayed for another year. The plan, which was first promised in 2012, was expected to provide high speed broadband to 542,000 rural homes and businesses.

However Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has told Dáil Éireann that he does not now expect the first homes to be connected until Eir completes a separate, private, project to connect rural homes commercially, towards the end of 2018.

The prevarication has been criticised by Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Timmy Dooley. He has described Minister Naughten’s acknowledgement of an 18 month delay as “a scandal that will further erode the public’s confidence in the Government’s ability to deliver the National Broadband Scheme.”

According to Deputy Dooley, “Minister Naughten had the audacity to come into the Dáil to answer questions on the NBP last week and announce that nothing will happen with these households until Eir finishes a project connecting 300,000 other households which they are doing on a commercial basis.  For the next 77 weeks, it will be the households that Eir are connecting on a commercial basis that will be prioritised, and not the households that have no hope of ever being connected via a normal commercial connection.

“What’s worse is Minister Naughten’s attempt at jumping on the coat-tails of Eir’s work by claiming it as a phase under the NBP, and referring to the State’s work in connecting the remaining 542,000 households as the ‘next phase’. Minister Naughten’s actions are akin to a Minister for Transport claiming to provide public transport by letting car dealers sell cars to the public.”

Given the continuous delays in supplying high speed broadband to rural Ireland, Dooley said, “The NBP is beyond a joke now. Every few months, we see the Minister announcing changes to the Plan which fundamentally diminishes its impact.”

“Why is it,” he asks, “that the State’s work in connecting these 542,000 households cannot take place in tandem with Eir’s activities? Dooley claims, “The State’s intervention is being long fingered by the Minister clapping himself on the back for the work being undertaken commercially by companies such as Eir and Imagine.

“The ability of the State to meet its original pledge to deliver broadband to over half a million household and businesses is now shrouded in doubt. What does Minister Naughten expect them to do in the meantime? The NBP was supposed to be completed by 2016, yet it’s now clear that it may be 2023, at the very earliest, that they are connected.”

In conclusion, Deputy Dooley stated, “Rural Ireland is suffering, and is unable to compete with the major cities and large towns. Broadband can be a lifeline for these communities, but Minister Naughten just doesn’t get it. Businesses are losing customers, farmers cannot access services that they can only available online, young people cannot access supports that will help their education, and all Minister Naughten can do is pass the buck and jump on the coat-tails of private commercial operation such as Eir and Imagine.”