Author: Alan Finn
Source: Sligo Weekender

More than 14,000 premises on Co Sligo will benefit from the rollout of the National Broadband Plan.

This was announced at Monday’s meeting of Sligo County Council where National Broadband Ireland provided a detailed presentation on what the long term project holds in store for the county.

TJ Malone, chief executive officer of National Broadband Ireland Deployment, was on hand to explain the project, beginning with a general overview of what they aim to achieve.

“For the National Broadband Plan, we were asked to put together a proposal to ensure that every premise in Ireland had a minimum of 30Mb of download speed. Our plan had a minimum of 150Mb and in the last couple of weeks we have increased that to a minimum of 500Mb, so this has increased hugely before we have even started building.”

The core goal of the plan is to bring high-speed broadband to “intervention areas” which currently have inadequate broadband by utilising existing infrastructure.

14,803 premises have been earmarked within these areas where BCP (Broadband Connection Points) will be located in suitable central locations such as schools and community centres.

“We have highlighted intervention areas, where areas do not have access to broadband of that speed or will not get it in the next seven years. The yellow areas are where they will not have access to these speeds without the National Broadband Plan. Nobody will be left behind, every single premise will have access.”

He went on to say that the plan is coming along very well in Sligo and they hope to complete work in several locations as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“Thankfully we are deemed an essential service so we were able to continue out work albeit under very difficult circumstances. We have had to survey every area and that means walking every street, every road, testing every pole, testing every cable, seeing if any poles need to be replaced and what infrastructure is already there. The surveying is still ongoing at the moment including in Sligo and that has been going very well so far.

“Luckily the team working with us here in Sligo has been extremely proactive. It is important that we build on the relationships here with the council, with road planners, with Gardai and others we have here in order to get the work done as fast as we can.”

Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council Dara Mulvey praised TJ Malone for the presentation, stating ” this is something I think we have all been contacted on and it is only when you see a presentation like this that it outlines how much is going on in the background.”

Councilors put forward several queries to the various aspects of the plan.

Cllr Thomas Walsh asked if the existing list of BCPs can be explained, to which Mr. Malone confirmed that the list “is not set in stone”, but stressed that National Broadband Ireland do not choose these sites.

Councillors Joe Queenan and Michale Queenana bit asked about dangerous and outdated Eircom poles dotted around Sligo.”As part of the survey, poles are being evaluated. We will identify and carry out tests on the integrity of each pole and poles deemed unsafe will be removed and replaced.”Mr. Malone said.

Cllr Marie Casserly said that safeguarding against potential scammers during the works in Sligo will be imperative, something Mr. Malone fully agreed with.

“It is going to be important that the message is out there that workers will have proper ID, clearly marked vehicles and ensure residents know when work is scheduled to take place,”.she said.

He responded: “Communication is key to us. Contractors with NBI will wear branded gear, ID and residents will be notified of work. Gardai will also be informed of where and when we are carrying out work so we are taking every precaution we can.”

Fianna Fail councilor Donal Gilroy said that customer services from providers has not been of an acceptable level and said that he hopes NBI’s service will provide better and quicker answers.

“NBI has a contact centre which already takes many queries and answers are generally provided quickly,” Mr. Malone said.

Additionally, Cllr Gilroy also said that there are examples of premises in intervention areas which cannot simply be connected via cables.

“There is a beautiful place in north Sligo called Dernish island. It would cost some money to provide that one house with service, will it actually get to these kind of corners? You won’t lay a cable or run a wire to it, it’s just not feasible.”

Mr. Malone said: “There will be some areas in need of alternative solutions which would possibly involve something wireless or a satellite which doesn’t compromise the quality of the service.”

Cllr Arthur Gibbons asked about the level of supervision on site, reminding the council of previous instances in which poorly placed cables and wires accidentally cut in the past.

“When the old version of broadband was being rolled out, there was optic cables put in hedgerows and left along walls in country areas because the contractors were trying to meet a deadline. Between 2000 and 2004, there was a number of post offices and small banks that lost their communications because a farmer went digging in his field and cut through a cable that he couldn’t see. Will contractors be overseen to ensure this does not happen again?”

Mr. Malone confirmed: ” the level of scrutiny will be second to none and we will ensure the service is rolled out efficiently.”

Building in Sligo for the National Broadband Plan is expected to get underway at the end of quarter one or the start of quarter two in 2021.