Adventures in Irish broadband land.

Posted: October 22, 2019 in tech, Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Screenshot 2019-10-22 at 13.28.17

There has been a lot of heated discussion this year about the new National Broadband Plan in Ireland. This umpteenth iteration of an attempt to bring broadband to the Irish masses is set to cost in excess of 3 billion euro. However I am not here to discuss this monstrosity of a plan. No, I want to share an insight of the realities of currently getting broadband in Ireland and the issues and obstacles encountered. Issues and obstacles which will not be removed by the new plan either.

Let me give you a bit of background; I live in a rural village of which there are many in Ireland. It has approx 1200 inhabitants, a busy Main Street, shops and other businesses. About 1.5 years ago I moved to a different house in the town. In the previous house I had DSL standard broadband. It was supplied by Eir over a copper line but they marketed it as “Fiber Broadband”. My new home is, in a straight line, less than a mile away. For reference the telephone exchange lies halfway between these two locations. In made the in hindsight stupid assumption that getting a broadband service in my new home would be no problem. WRONG!

I asked Eir to move the service to my new address (something which involves the baffling requirement of setting up a new account) and an engineer duly arrived. After some looking around the engineer notified me that he could not connect me as I did not have an active phoneline and that I had to contact Eir requesting that a new phoneline was installed. I contacted Eir and came up against the first hurdle: the house on which I live is part of a development of former holiday homes which used to belong to a hotel next door. The hotel burnt down many years ago and has never been rebuilt. It turns out that the phone lines going into all of the houses run to the hotel and into the hotel’s telephone exchange. Which was burnt to a crisp. So there was no connection to the main telephone network. So I suggested that Eir connect the existing cabling to their main network. But that was a too straightforward idea; issues of site access, costs etc came into play at this stage. In short a mountain of bureaucracy was thrown up. As I am not easily deterred I started looking at suggesting different options. Did I mention that for my job I design and build communications networks in disaster areas? No? Well that experience helped…
We looked at digging trenches for underground ducting (out), repurposing some of the existing ducting (also out). Eventually the decision was made to put up a number of old school telegraph poles at the back of the houses, run fiber on these poles and via a pole on a neighbouring property connect all this to the main telephone network. Added benefit was that we would be the first houses in the town connected with *real* fiber.

Once everyone had decided that this was the best, and quite frankly only, option the process was put in to motion. There were several stages of the plan:

  • Design the site plan.
  • Place the telegraph poles.
  • Put fiber on the telegraph poles.
  • Mount distribution units on the poles.
  • Blow fiber in the underground ducting from the houses to the exchange.
  • Connect all the bits together (fiber on the poles to the underground fiber, underground fiber to the equipment in the exchange and distribution units to the individual homes).

One would expect somehow that all if not most of this work would be done by the same crew. WRONG!

The work is managed by Open Eir who contract all the actual work out to KN Networks. KN in turn uses a different crew for each part of the process. Not only that but the coordination and communication between these crews and between KN and Open Eir is atrocious. To give you a timeline: I started trying to get broadband in May 2018. The first telegraph poles were put into place on June 20th 2019. They took 2 days to install.
Fiber was put on the poles on July 8th 2019. The distribution units were put in place 2 weeks later. On 13/8 an installer arrived at my house supposedly to instal my internet service. However it expired that his work-order stated “an installation over copper”.
I helpfully told him that it should be fiber as there is no copper line in place at all. I even pointed to the fiber cable on the pole beside my house and yes he confirmed that he could see it too. But no, his work order said “copper” so he could not proceed and left. I duly called my contact in Open Eir who told me that yes all the pieces were in place but no, they had not been connected yet. “When will that happen?” I asked. “I don’t know” was the less than helpful answer.

We are now near the end of October and the last update I was given was that all the pieces are connected bar the last connection at the exchange. I was told this several weeks ago. “Any idea of that will be done?” I asked. “I have someone calling out to do that this afternoon” was the reply.
Now, nearly 18 months since I started this process I still have no connection. Not only do I not have broadband, the other 21 houses in the development don’t have any either.

“But the National Broadband Plan will solve all!” that I hear you say. Really? Really? When it takes this, long, such a huge amount of work and cost to (not even) connect a few houses less than 500 yards from the nearest telephone exchange? I see the NBP resulting mostly in burning through that 3 billion euro of tax payers money…..

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