The National Broadband Plan, which was launched in 2012 with the pledge to connect all homes in Ireland with high-speed broadband by 2020, has suffered countless setbacks over the past five years.
Delays in the procurement process have resulted in the slated completion date being pushed back to 2021 and a fresh change to the plan has brought more uncertainty.
However, optimistic analysts are welcoming the change, which could see thousands of Ireland’s so-called ‘broadband blackspots’ up and running online earlier than expected.
On April 4th, it was announced that 300,000 homes which were originally targeted under the National Broadband Plan, will instead by connected by Eir.
Eir is one of the three shortlisted bidders for the government contract, along with eNet and SIRO.
There is speculation that the other bidders may challenge the latest change, which could have the effect of delaying the rollout of the national plan.
However, the householders that make up Eir's targeted 300,000 will be cautiously happy to hear that the provider has promised to complete its rollout before the end of 2018 - much earlier than the National Broaband Plan had guaranteed.
On top of that, EIr's broadband rollout is likely to provide fibre-to-the-home connections, which can achieve top speeds of 1,000 Mbps. The National Broadband Plan has only promised to provide minimum speeds of 30 Mbps.
Since its rebrand in September 2015, Eir has been rolling out its superfast fibre-to-the-home broadband and has set itself the ambitious target of connecting 1.9 million homes by 2020.
In March of 2016, the provider revealed the locations of the first 100,000 rural homes to get access to its high-speed network, with the likes of Spiddal and Dingle making the list.
Around 300,000 of Eir's targeted homes were also listed under the National Broadband Plan, and this is where the seeds of tthe agreement between the provider and the government were sewn.
Under EU law, state funds cannot be used to provide a service to areas in which commercial providers are already proving that same service. So, if Eir went ahead and connected those 300,000 homes, the National Broadband Plan would possibly have had to be altered for legal reasons.
Eir isn’t the only provider seeking to connect rural Ireland with fibre-to-the-home broadband.
SIRO, the joint venture between ESB and Vodafone, is committed to making its 1,000 Mbps broadband available across Ireland over the coming years, with the likes of Carrigaline, Cavan, Drogheda, Dundalk, Ennis, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Skibbereen, Sligo, Tralee and Wexford already with access.
Castlebar, Newbridge, Portlaoise and Westport are likely to be connected in the near future too.
SIRO’s interactive rollout map can be viewed here.
Imagine is also in the process of connecting parts of rural Ireland to a high-speed network.
The provider uses LTE, which is a method of wirelessly connecting homes to a local fibre mast head.
Imagine promises speeds of up to 70 Mbps and is currently available in all counties except for Leitrim and Offaly. The Imagine coverage map is available here.
Despite the delays and disappointments, all rural communities in Ireland now have at least a rough due date for when they will finally have access to high-speed broadband.
Ambitious and aggressive rollout plans from the likes of Eir, SIRO and Imagine will continue to provide access to new regions over the coming months.
And as for the National Broadband Plan, even with the ongoing uncertainty, its latest change may see a big chunk of its originally targeted homes connected sooner than expected by Eir.
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