Trick or Treat? NBS due for completion this Halloween

Trick or Treat? NBS due for completion this Halloween

This weekend as the ghouls and wizards roam from door to door and the clocks fall back pulling curtains of darkness across the evening sky, a beacon of light will shine throughout the land. Information will spread from rural townlands to remote mountain villages and where there was night, there will be light!

Ok, I know that’s a little dramatic and ridiculous, but it’s almost Halloween so I thought I’d give the DCENR their due in the spirit (sic) of the season. Who's that you say? That’s the Department of Communications and so on, and this Halloween is their deadline for completion the National Broadband Scheme.

When it was thought up a few years ago, the National Broadband Scheme was a pretty ambitious undertaking. The plan was to “provide broadband services to all premises in the NBS areas who seek a service”. The NBS areas are some of the most remote in the country and without a scheme of this sort; it is unlikely that any private company could make it worth their while to provide services in a good many of them.

Over a thousand electoral regions and more than a quarter of a million buildings fall into the NBS coverage area, and if you take a look at the map (which I’ve linked at the end of this post) you’ll get an idea of how the regions were decided. Basically, if you’re within an ass’s roar of a decent sized town, you won’t be covered. You’ll have to get your broadband from a commercial provider. If you’re remote, you may be covered but you’ll have to check - which can be done through the 3 website (that’s linked at the end of this page too).

Which brings me to 3 (the mobile company). Two years ago, they won the tender to make this scheme happen. Investment capital of €223m was procured, some from the Irish government and some from the EU. 3 were then given 22 months to get every one of the 1028 electoral regions covered. Unsurprisingly, they chose to go with a wireless 3G solution for most of it and those that cannot get 3G coverage can avail of satellite broadband. For customers, the 3G option is pretty simple, you get a dongle, plug it into your computer and off you go. Some customers may need a device to boost the signal, but everyone is still guaranteed a speed of at least 1.2Mb down.

Because it’s basically a subsidized program, if you are in a coverage area, the NBS a terrific deal. €19.99 a month will get you a guaranteed minimum download speed of 1.2Mb, the usage limit is a fairly decent 25Gb and if you live somewhere that can’t be accessed by one of the 400 wireless cells that 3 have installed, you should be eligible for satellite broadband at the same cost. And that’s where the real value is.

In the private market, satellite broadband is eyewateringly expensive. Under the NBS, satellite broadband costs the same as 3G wireless; just €19.99 a month. For that you get a minimum download speed of 1Mb and a monthly usage allowance of 11Gb. You’d pay over €100 a month for that in the private market and you’d also have to stump up the guts of €600 for the equipment.

Now that the National Broadband Scheme is as good as completed, I’m a little surprised that the Department of Communications hasn’t been trumpeting their achievement a little more than they have. Perhaps they are waiting until after the Halloween deadline.

The DCENR did however issue a press release last week after the results of the Cisco Systems/Oxford Universitystudy into worldwide broadband penetration. There was lots of good news for Ireland. As a country we are now apparently 13th in the world for broadband leadership, ahead of the UK and the USA. We’re in the top ten movers too, with broadband apparently now available to 88% of households – an increase of 11% on last year.

The most interesting piece of the DCENR press release was the “notes to editors” section which said this:

”The increase in Ireland’s broadband penetration can be attributed to the Government’s National Broadband Scheme to deliver broadband to every region in Ireland, which is nearing completion. The upcoming Rural Broadband Scheme will target the remaining 12,000 or so premises, which for technical and geographical reasons, do not have access to broadband. When these Schemes are complete, every premises in Ireland will have access to broadband services.”

Now I’m a big fan of the National Broadband Scheme and I think it’s a fantastic undertaking, so with a certain amount of reluctance I’ll point out a bit of an error in the above statement. I’m not sure that every household in Ireland bar 12,000 has access to broadband services. First off there are 2 million households in Ireland. If (as the Cisco/Oxford study says) 12% of those don’t have access to broadband, that’s the guts of a quarter of a million households. Also, we run a broadband comparison service at bonkers.ie and we’ve spoken to a heck of a lot of people outside the NBS areas that are unable to get broadband of any sort. So, I’m guessing that the DCENR are talking about the NBS regions and not the country as a whole… Anyway, that’s my nit-picking done for the day!

So back to the NBS. Check to see if you’re in one of the regions, and if you are, good for you; take advantage of it. It’s a great deal and certainly one of the best public services delivered in the last couple of years.

If you’re like me and you live in a city, you should have a good deal of choice from commercial broadband providers, but sometimes choice can be a little overwhelming. There are all sorts of delivery types, usage plans and packages to choose from. We’ve done our best to make sense of it here with our comparison service, but over the next few weeks I’ll explain the difference between the types, plans and packages and hopefully provide the information you need to make the best choice for you.

And finally here’s the links I was talking about:

National Broadband Scheme Coverage Map

Check to see if your home is covered by the National Broadband Scheme


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