A major expansion of Gigabit fibre broadband to an additional 320,000 homes and businesses has been announced today.

The network, operated by Siro, is a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone.

Today's announcement is not part of Ireland's National Broadband plan, which seeks to deliver high speed broadband across Ireland

However it means that Siro will double its footprint and will deliver fibre broadband to 770,000 homes and businesses overall, reaching 154 towns and serving 2.1 million people.

The investment will cost €620m and funding has been secured through the European Investment Bank and a syndicate of Irish and international lenders.

Siro said the additional funding will bring its total investment in its Gigabit broadband network to in excess of €1 billion.

Siro chief executive John Keaney said the expansion comes at an opportune time, as more people are remote working.

"Connecting over two million people as part of a Gigabit society matters because it means that more people have the option of working from home, with less cars on the roads and families able to spend more quality time with each other," the Siro CEO said.

"Similarly, more businesses will be more fully participate in the digital economy, collaborating with clients seamlessly and selling to customers in every corner of the globe," he said.

"Thanks to our future proofed network, Siro will power Ireland's broadband needs for decades ahead," he added.

Speaking on the News at One, Mr Keaney said that a shift to working from home and a growth of data is driving the need to expand and future proof the fibre network.

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He described the implementation of hybrid working models as "a way that we have evolved as a society" and noted that there has been a continued growth of data in recent years.

"We see that's not going to change, that's going to continue so we need to have networks you know, the fibre network that we can both rely upon that delivers today, but it also has a clear path for future proofing," he added.

This expansion follows where there is demand, he claimed.

"It's across towns, villages and cities actually where there is unserved demand and the need for basic connectivity," he added.

Speaking at the Siro event today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the Government aims to connect 90% of the population to high speed broadband, through the National Broadband Plan, over the next four years.

He said that one has to be realistic with regards to what can be achieved, due to delays caused by the pandemic.

His comments were met with concern, given that up to 10% of the population could potentially be without high speed broadband in 2025.

Asked to explain his comments, Micheál Martin said that NPB is still aiming to connect all homes over the next four years but one should acknowledge that connecting 90% of the population over four years would still represent significant progress.

The former Minister for Communications Denis Naughten has said that today's comments from the Taoiseach means that 250,000 homes will not have access to high speed broadband by 2025.

Also speaking on News at One, he said that there are two groups of people who will miss out.

"First of all, mainly those in urban areas who are getting 30 megabits per second today. Now they can be fast tracked if the EU changes its definition of high speed broadband from 30 megabits per second to let's say 100 megabits per second and that would spur on commercial investment like the one announced by Siro today," he said.

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"The other side of that then are people in rural areas who are getting little or no broadband at the moment. We've seen in relation to the National Broadband Plan, there is a slippage of 75,000 homes who are supposed to get their broadband connection by the end of year two, who will not get it now, which is roughly about one year's backlog of the delivery on the contract," he added.

Mr Naughten said that the delay has been blamed on the pandemic.

He said that there is a need for a commitment from the Government to "get all of the government agencies working together in a streamlined fashion to approve the build out of this project".

He added that there is also a need for the EU to change its definition of high speed broadband.

"I believe that we could, if those two steps are taken, get far higher than the 90% coverage by the end of 2020."