A process to make access to high-speed broadband a legal right could get under way within the lifetime of this Government if it runs full term, according to the Minister for Communications.
But Denis Naughten said the Government's sole focus now is delivering the infrastructure capable of giving every premises in Ireland access to that high speed broadband.
Speaking at an update briefing on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan, the minister said making provision of high-speed broadband a legal obligation would require changes to Universal Service Obligation rules at European level, and then legislation here in Ireland to give effect to that.
However, he added that there was no point in doing any of that until the infrastructure was in place to make it feasible to deliver it.
The minister said he was equally, if not more frustrated than most people, to find out recently that the timeline for delivering the intervention under the National Broadband Plan had slipped by six months.
Several weeks ago it emerged the completion date for the procurement phase of the plan had been pushed back by six months, to June 2017, due to unforeseen delays.
Minister Naughten said it remained his department's expectation that completion of the rollout of the new network would take between three and five years, once contracts had been signed.
That means that the final premises currently without high speed broadband would be brought online by mid-2022 at the latest, although some operators have signalled it may be possible to complete it in three years.
Minister Naughten said he would only bring forward that expected date for completion when he has certainty that it can be finished by then, and he can stand over it.
A shortlist of five or fewer bidders will be decided upon by the end of June, he claimed, while the Government will make a decision on the ownership model for the new network around the same time.
After that, he said, the contenders for the contract will have to submit draft bids, followed by formal tenders.
These will then be evaluated, he said, in order to identify a preferred bidder, with the final contract expected to be awarded by June next year.
By then the minister said he expects he will be able to tell the occupants of every premises in the country currently without a quality service by what date they will have high speed broadband.