Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Offshore Islands Moving Up the Queue Under National Broadband Plan

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Irish offshore islands are used to having to wait, whether it is for safe piers or electricity decades ago.

However, they are being prioritised for pure fibre links under the national broadband plan.

Three West Cork islands are due to be surveyed, while ten other islands have already been prepared for high-speed connectivity by National Broadband Ireland (NBI).

Up to 500 residents on Cape Clear/Oileán Chléire, Sherkin and Bere islands have been notified that survey works will begin shortly to determine the location for the infrastructure.

This may involve using old telephone poles, as existing infrastructure is being leased by NBI as part of the plan.

“What surprised us is that we are so far up the queue, as we were under the impression that it would be 2028 or 2029 at the earliest,” Kevin MacAnna, manager of Comharchumann Chléire, the Cape Clear island co-op, says.

“We do have mobile broadband, and most of us get good 4G coverage, but for businesses the national broadband connectivity may be more advantageous,”MacAnna says.

Minimum speeds of 500 megabits per second will be offered to islanders under the plan which will be to the same standard as the mainland, NBI says.

It will involve high-capacity radio backhaul link technology, and no undersea cabling, it says.

The so-called “Rolls Royce” of high speed connectivity offered by NBI has been estimated at costing 6,000 euro per household, based on a total cost of over 3 billion euro for the 25-year contract.

Cape Clear currently has a population of 110, based on Census 2022, down from 135 in the last Census, while Bere island’s population has grown to 218 people from 167. Sherkin island is stable over the past five years at around 110 residents

Ten islands have “live” NBI infrastructure to date including Hare Island and Long Island off the coast of Cork; Turbot Island and Inishturk South island off Connemara; Inishlyre and Collanmore off Mayo; as well as the four Donegal islands of Inishfree, Rutland , Eadarinis (Inishcoo) and Eighter.

Surveying works are already complete on seven islands: Dursey Island and Horse Island off the coast of Cork; Valentia Island off the coast of Kerry; Inishbiggle, Acaill Beag and Achill island off the coast of Mayo; as well as Owey Island off the coast of Donegal.

Surveying works are pending for seven more islands, including the three Aran islands and Inishbofin off Galway, Clare island off Mayo, and Arranmore and Tory off Donegal.

NBI chief executive officer Peter Hendrick said that the contractor’s mission is “to ensure that no community is left behind under the National Broadband Plan, no matter how rural or remote their location, and this obviously includes our offshore islands”.

“We are very proud that we will provide connectivity to the islands as part of our work, “he said and confirmed NBI teams would be “on the ground” on Sherkin, Cape Clear and Bere islands in the coming weeks to start engineering surveys to determine locations for equipment.

“Our planners and surveyors will collaborate with the local authority, relevant stakeholders and island residents at every step of the way,” Hendrick pledged.

The National Broadband Plan contract, which was initiated over ten years ago and associated with delays and controversy, including the resignation of communications minister, Denis Naughten, is held by international technology and telecommunications investor Granahan McCourt.

It is contracted to provide broadband infrastructure for the “State Intervention Area”, as in parts of the island where private companies have said they have no plans to invest, and includes 564,000 premises, ranging from homes, farms and businesses to community facilities – and over 1.1 million people.

In September 2023, NBI stated that a total of 50,000 premises had been provided with access to pure fibre broadband to date, marking the milestone at a farm in Co Cork.

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