I propose to take Questions Nos. 537 and 538 together.
The purpose of the National Broadband Plan is to ensure that over 1.1 million of our citizens in rural Ireland have the same opportunity to participate in the digital society as citizens living in urban areas. The availability of ubiquitous high speed broadband will bring significant benefits in areas of e-Health, e-Education, smart farming, regional development and tourism.
The Government's National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to ensure high speed broadband access (minimum 30 megabits per second) to all premises in Ireland, regardless of location. The NBP, which is pillar 5 of the Action Plan for Rural Ireland, has been a catalyst in encouraging investment by the telecoms sector. In 2012, less than 700,000, or 30% of Irish premises had access to high speed broadband. Today, 74% of the 2.4 million premises in Ireland have access to high speed broadband.
The National Broadband Plan intervention is the subject of the procurement process to engage a company to build, operate and maintain the NBP State intervention network. Following rigorous evaluation by the Department, I recently brought a recommendation to Government to confer Preferred Bidder status on Granahan McCourt, the remaining bidder in the NBP procurement process and Government agreed to this at its meeting on 7 May.
The Government Decision means that it is intended to award the State Intervention contract to National Broadband Ireland, subject to the contract close, including the finalisation of financial and legal documents. Deployment of the NBP State Intervention network will commence shortly after that.
The Bidder has indicated that the NBP State Intervention will take an estimated 7 years from the beginning of deployment.
In the first year of this roll out, the Bidder will deploy approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) across all counties. It is anticipated that between 7 and 23 BCPs will be deployed in each county. BCPs will provide a community based high speed broadband service, enhancing online participation and allowing for the establishment of digital work hubs in these locations. A deployment plan will be made available by the Bidder once the contract is signed. The Bidder is aiming to pass 133,000 premises by end of the second year of the overall deployment, with 70-100,000 passed each year thereafter until roll out is completed.