National broadband plan: Irish homeowners frustrated as rollout ‘leapfrogs’ areas

High-speed fibre cables hanging at gates of homes denied the service on competition grounds

National Broadband Ireland, which is rolling out the State’s national broadband plan, is installing high-speed fibre cabling on poles at the gates of homes while in many cases refusing those homes connection to the scheme.

National Broadband Ireland, which is supported by €2.9 billion in subsidies from the Government, said it was prevented by EU rules on State aid from offering connections anywhere there is a commercial operator offering a service of more than 30mbps.

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It is working with maps provided by the Department of Communications, which divide the country into two zones — an amber or “intervention” zone where no commercial operator is present, and a blue zone where commercial operators are already offering high-speed connectivity.

However, in bringing cables from one amber, intervention zone to the next, National Broadband Ireland (NBI) said it was frequently required to “leapfrog” along existing Eir poles in the blue zone, hanging high-speed, fibre cables at the gates of homes and businesses that are being told they cannot have access to the high-speed service.

The Irish Times has been told “hundreds” of people have been writing to their TDs about the issue.

In a further anomaly, while NBI is prohibited from connecting homes in the blue, or commercial, zone, there is nothing to prevent the commercial operators installing their networks in the amber, or intervention zone.

Over the past three years, since the State aid deal was signed, commercial operators have been developing rapidly in the intervention area.

More than half of the homes in the amber intervention area of some 540,000 premises, which was designated as NBI’s target market in 2019, are now being offered service by at least one of about seven alternative providers. Some of the fastest to develop have been wireless and mobile communications.

In addition, Elon Musk has in the three years since the department’s maps were finalised offered his satellite broadband service, Starlink, to every home in Ireland.

The Department of Communications said it was aware of the commercial operators building networks in the amber intervention area and welcomed the extra connectivity, saying the operators would all know they would soon be facing competition from the State-subsidised scheme. The department said it would continue to rely on the 2019 maps, which were fully compliant with rules for State aid.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist