I propose to take Questions Nos. 5, 16, 25 and 26 together. I thank the Deputy for raising the question.
Broadband connection points, BCPs, are among the first deliverables of the national broadband plan, NBP, and will provide high-speed broadband connectivity to publicly accessible sites in rural and isolated areas of the country, including a number of our offshore islands. These sites will be provided with a temporary wireless connection by National Broadband Ireland, NBI, the company contracted to deliver the NBP. This connection will remain in situ until the sites have been given a permanent connection under the NBP.
As of last Thursday, 10 December 2020, 162 sites had the initial connection established by NBI. Of these, 133 had been passed to Vodafone to install its equipment to provide broadband services to the site. Vodafone had installed its equipment at 113 of these sites up to last Thursday and is continuing with its installations. In the Deputy's constituency of Laois-Offaly, there are eight connected broadband points, which are, Vicarstown, Oisín House, Emo community centre in Laois and Ballycommon, Primo Coachworks, Coolderry community hall, Kilclonfert and Croghan community hall in Offaly. They have been connected and another five sites are waiting to be connected. It is my plan that all of these connections will be done by the end of the first quarter of 2021.
In addition to the substantial investment already made in the BCPs, my Department is planning to develop the facilities and services available at these sites. Included in this programme is the use of ehealth technology at BCPs. If successful, this could reduce the need to travel from remote areas to towns and cities for many medical appointments, which is to be welcomed. My officials are also exploring the use of BCPs as educational settings, remote working hubs and as locations for the creative arts.
Under budget 2021, I secured an additional €5 million to enhance remote working capability and remote access for students at BCPs and digital hubs across rural Ireland next year. The location of all BCPs which have been installed or which are planned across the country is available on the National Broadband Ireland website, www.nbi.ie.
The national broadband plan is the biggest investment in rural Ireland since electrification and nobody questions whether it was the right decision or anything else. All we want to do now is establish how soon we can get that broadband. It is a request that arrives frequently to my constituency office and I hear about people who need to go online for different reasons, including remote working, and they want to know how soon they can get access to broadband. Rolling out the plan is akin to rural electrification and we cannot get it to every house straightaway. In the interim, we are going to use these broadband connection points. I have a fund of €5 million and I want to help communities to create spaces where co-working can happen or where students can do their college work, or whatever, in hubs. For a small investment, we can make a real difference in communities.
A teacher called me the other day. He was marking an exam and needed to be able to upload the results.
They have poor broadband where he lives and I told him the good news was there was a broadband connection point, BCP, close to him and, with a bit of adaptation, there was no reason that could not be fitted out for him to go in and do his work. We are continuing to roll out these BCPs across the country in black spots. We will have 300 of them up and running by next spring, including a number in all the counties I mentioned. There is a number of them here.
There is scope to include additional BCP locations next year. If Deputies have locations they feel are suitable, they should alert the broadband officer in their local authority, who can make the case to my Department and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.
Under town and village renewal, we have been able to fund the kitting out of some of the sites with desks, computers and other equipment. It is important that we do that. I have a co-working facilities mapping exercise because I believe co-working is important. Not everybody wants to work from home permanently. There needs to be a blend and blended working may be the way of the future: three or four days working remotely and one or two days in the office with colleagues is probably the best. The Western Development Commission, WDC, is doing a mapping project of all the hubs along the Atlantic economic corridor from Kerry to Donegal. Some people may not know it but we already have about 350 hubs across the country. Some of them are more suited to community use than full-time remote working. My plan is that we do the mapping exercise across the country and develop an app in order that any worker can log on, find the hub closest to them and meet their needs.
The Deputy talked about job creation in the midlands, particularly in view of what is happening with peatlands. There will be a big boost to the IDA as it tries to attract some of the big tech companies when we show that we have a top-class network of these hubs across the country.