Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Questions (41)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

41. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications the number of homes that will have high-speed broadband in County Donegal by the end of 2021 and the end of 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12764/21]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

Will the Minister confirm how many homes in Donegal will have high-speed broadband by the end of this year and the end of next year? Donegal is one of four counties where the roll-out of the national broadband network of fibre broadband is not yet in progress. Working from home and home schooling have highlighted the importance of Internet connection for rural communities. People are very frustrated by the slow roll-out. If people are expected to work from home and to home school then they should be provided with the tools necessary to do so. Every other county will see the start of the national broadband plan roll-out by the beginning of next year. Donegal is not expected to see any roll-out until the second half of 2022. Will the Minister comment on this?

There are 32,373 premises within the national broadband plan intervention area for County Donegal within the national broadband plan. As of early March 6,389, or 20%, of the premises in the county have been surveyed.  Of these premises that have been surveyed to date, National Broadband Ireland, NBI, indicates that approximately half will be passed and ready for connection next year with the other half passed and ready for connection in 2023.

Further details are available on specific areas within Donegal through the NBI website, which provides a facility for any premises within the intervention area to register their interest in being provided with deployment updates through its website www.nbi.ie. Individuals who register with this facility will receive regular updates on progress by NBI on delivering the network and specific updates related to their own premises when works are due to commence.  I am advised that NBI is working to provide more detail on its website, with a rolling update on network build plans.

Broadband connection points, BCPs, are a key element of the national broadband plan providing high-speed broadband in every county in advance of the rolling out of the fibre to the home network. As of 3 March, 287 BCP sites have been installed by NBI and the high-speed broadband service will be switched on through service provider contracts managed by the Department of Rural and Community Development for publicly accessible locations and by the Department of Education for schools. Ray Community Centre, Leghowney Community Centre, Fort Dunree Military Museum, Coole Cranford Community Centre, the Gweedore Theatre and the Meenreagh Hostel have now been connected with high-speed publicly accessible broadband.

My Department continues to work with the Department of Education to prioritise schools with no high-speed broadband and this aspect of the national broadband plan is to be accelerated to ensure 679 primary schools nationally are connected to the high-speed broadband network by the end of next year. This will include 42 schools in County Donegal.

Those figures are shocking. The Minister said some 3,500 premises have been surveyed in County Donegal and with a bit of luck they will all be connected. This is out of 32,300 premises. That is shocking. This means there is very little happening in Donegal with the national broadband plan. The county that is probably in most need of development and most need of work on that cannot do anything. Some 2% of the premises nationally are in Donegal and this is not good enough. It is not good enough that the national broadband plan is not delivering. Since there is not reliable broadband for Internet connections it means that employers in Donegal, such as those based in Letterkenny, cannot have their workers working from home. I urge the Minister, if he is interested, to speed up the roll-out in the county because it is vitally important.

It is true that the national broadband plan has been somewhat delayed by Covid. As with so many other areas, workers are not available and contractors are not able to come into the country, but we are progressing at full speed and are working with the company and with other companies to see if we can accelerate the programme further. In truth, this was originally a seven-year plan and I would like to see if we can bring that back to a shorter number of years. Our commitment to Donegal is very real. There is a €128 million investment. It is part of a wider strategy. The national broadband plan is closing and filling the gaps at the same time that other companies are delivering really high-speed broadband. In Donegal Eir has rolled out to some 28,000 premises with the really high-speed fibre broadband. SIRO has passed 18,000 premises. It is not just the national broadband plan, there are also those additional 40,000 and 50,000 houses that have, in the last two and three years, got significant upgrades. Yes, we need to go further and go faster. We will do everything we can to make that happen.

I am sorry to say that this is not the case. This question does not even cover Eir and how people do not get broadband even in the areas that are supposed to be covered by Eir. They do not get a response from Eir when dealing with it. I could spend the next hour on questions about Eir and its lack of response to people. The reality is that once again Donegal has been put on the hind tit with regard to the national broadband plan and will have to make do with whatever the Minister decides. The Minister might be shortening the period of the plan but the fact is that Donegal will be at the end of the shortened period regardless. This is not acceptable. This problem was about long before Covid. It is a bit rich to blame Covid for this. The Department has not done its job and it is leaving Donegal behind again.

There is no intention, far from it, to leave Donegal behind. It is a county that has suffered from a lack of infrastructure and a lack of connection to the rest of the State in transport and a whole range of areas. I absolutely accept that Donegal should get priority. The roll-out of this NBI plan, with regard to where the surveys are done or how the network is developed, is a technical one. It is not that we, as politicians, are telling to NBI to do Cavan first and go back to Donegal later. It is far from that. It is purely a technical exercise in where the network points are to start and how it is rolled out. My direction to the NBI would be to please do Donegal as fast as possible and to make it a top priority. Donegal needs improved connectivity in a whole range of ways. If there is any way this can be accelerated in Donegal I would happily support it. It is, however, an engineering task first and foremost and we must at some point cede to the engineers as to how they roll out that technical network.