I propose to take Questions Nos. 552, 558 and 559 together.
The National Broadband Plan aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland has access to high speed broadband. Following rigorous evaluation by my 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 70,000 to 100,000 passed each year thereafter until roll out to the 540,000 is completed.
Roll out of the National Broadband Plan State intervention to the approximately 44,000 businesses in the intervention area will take place against the backdrop of a significant and rapid transformation in the structure of global and national economies.
A growing number of businesses and industries, particularly digitally intensive enterprises, will need Gigabit connectivity to create new applications and business models to produce, distribute and sell their goods and services more competitively. From manufacturing systems to ordering and delivery processes, from data storage and analytics to internal and external communications, their future competitiveness requires cost-effective access to such connectivity. The State intervention will provide this connectivity to businesses from day one of connection.
One of the key elements of the NBP Intervention Strategy is a requirement to put forward specific speeds and connection times to meet the best practice needs of the business community. The predominantly fibre solution proposed by the Preferred Bidder in the NBP will facilitate and support these types of business services and the network to be built will provide that confidence and assurance to all businesses in the Intervention Area.
The cost of providing high speed broadband internationally is dependent on a range of factors including the cost of labour and materials, the governance and regulatory regime in place and the preferred technology selected by operators and policy makers. It is therefore not possible to state whether the cost of broadband is increasing internationally. However, while each country may have a different approach Ireland is not alone in pursuing fibre as a solution for provision of high speed broadband in rural areas. While the procurement process did not specify a preferred technology all bidders in the process proposed fibre as the best solution. My Department considered other technologies such as 4G and 5G or fixed wireless. It agreed with the national and international expertise in this area that a fibre-based solution was the most cost-effective way to address all premises with a future proofed solution over the 25 years of the contract. This is in line with the approach being adopted in other EU countries and internationally.
Fibre can meet the requirements and additional capacity can be added over time at low additional cost to network operators. Fibre can deliver up to 10 Gbps of speed with no major upgrades required, ensuring that the solution is future proofed and has a low running cost, making it an extremely efficient solution.